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IT minister Rajeev Chandrashekhar says the government is examining the power of big tech companies on digital advertising, spurring speculation that India may seek to regulate their relationship with news publishers. What could be the way forward? Mint explains:

Is this the first time this has come up?

No. Earlier this year, the Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA) and the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) approached the Competition Commission of India (CCI) accusing Google of abusing its market dominance. In March, the anti-trust authority decided to club the two allegations and ordered a probe into Google on the matter. INS had written a letter to Google in February last year, asking the technology giant to compensate newspapers for using content published by them on its platform. It also sought a larger share of online advertising revenue.

Why are publishers sparring with Big Tech?

Publishers worldwide are dealing with business models facing digital disruption. The bone of contention is two-fold. The first is that tech giants such as Google and Facebook serve content owned by publishers on their newsfeed and pages and directly or indirectly monetise the resulting traffic, while the publisher who incurred the cost of generating that content get little or inadequate share. The second is that big tech has cornered so much of digital advertising (more than 90% of the share in most markets) that they exercise unfair pricing power and other advantages of scale that put publishers at a disadvantage.

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Is India the only one considering such curbs?

Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code, passed last year, is widely seen as the blueprint for regulating the relationship between news media and Big Tech. It requires firms like Google to pay publishers to show links on their platforms. Google also licenced content from publishers in Europe earlier this year, under the European Copyright Directive.

Are Indian laws able to tackle the problem?

The Information Technology Act is not particularly equipped to deal with such problems, experts said. They said the proposed Digital India Act — essentially an amendment to the IT Act — will likely be the one that will regulate the Big Tech-News relationship. Besides, CCI probes could also help regulate the market if it sees proof that Big Tech is predatory towards publishers. The Central Consumer Protection Authority, formed in 2019, could also seek to regulate the relationship between platforms and Big Tech.

What steps have Big Tech taken?

Big Tech has already made moves to license content from publishers. Google announced an initiative called News Showcase back in 2020, and has licensed content from publishers worldwide, including India, under this. After initially resisting Australian laws, Facebook eventually decided to abide by the law. While such laws work in favour of large news publishers, experts have noted that they may be crippling for smaller media houses, or may lose access to platforms if they choose not to license their content.

 

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