Link Taxes Like Canada’s Bill C–18 Represent an End to an Open Web

Mike Masnick, Techdirt:

These “big tech pays news” schemes break this fundamental idea. They announce that some companies, these big companies who apparently no one likes, must suddenly pay to link. And sure, you can easily state (1) these big companies can afford it, and (2) no one likes them any way, so maybe you think that’s good. But nothing good comes from breaking the fundamental principles of the open web.

Once you break this concept of the freedom to link, you’re flinging open Pandora’s box to all sorts of mischief. Once industries learn that the government has no problem stepping in and forcing companies to pay for links, does anyone really believe it will stop at news organizations? Of course it won’t. Then the whole internet just becomes a food fight for lobbyists to argue with politicians over which industries they can force to subsidize other industries.

It’s pure unadulterated crony capitalism at its worst. Those with the best connections get to have the government force those with weaker connections to subsidize their own failures to innovate and compete.

Regardless of what merits anyone sees in a link tax for companies like Google and Meta, this is the only argument which truly matters. It is the best explanation for why any site must be permitted to link to another without cost or penalty.

These two companies — which Masnick insists on calling “tech companies”, even though they are “advertising companies” in this context — take a disproportionate share of digital ad spending through, allegedly, no small amount of collusion. It is very difficult, almost impossible, to advertise on the web without giving money to Google. Even if media sites actively crave traffic from Google’s search engine and news aggregator by employing search optimization experts, for example, the resulting ad views will also benefit Google. Even if a Canadian company wants to advertise to a Canadian customer, there is little getting around paying a U.S.-based company something like 30% of the cost of the ad. This is not just the story of legacy systems failing to adapt to a new reality; it is the story of incumbents being crowded out at scale.

Even so, this is a bad bill and sets a terrible precedent. The issues above are at least partly addressable through enforcement of competition laws, not by putting a fee on links. The Canadian government is making it even worse through, as Michael Geist puts it, a “fishing expedition” in the communications of these platforms. This needs to stop.

Update: Marc Edge, Canadian Dimension:

The irony, noted The Line, was that the Heritage Committee was demanding by month’s end to see documents from Google and Facebook which, if journalists sought them in an Access to Information request to Ottawa, “would take years to get such a request fulfilled, and half if it would come back redacted.” It concluded that the politicians had things backwards. “The government is subject to this kind of transparency and disclosure because the government works for us. Not the other way around.”

Ignore the headline on this article — which I think takes the concerns a few steps too far — but do focus on what is written here. It is shameful.