It seems the Government is on the side of media organisations in wanting to force Google and Facebook to pay for the right to provide the public with links to content that is not theirs.
I found myself torn. On the one hand I was wanting to see Google and Facebook broken up. I didn’t want them to become more powerful than the governments which are meant to regulate them on behalf of all of us.
But on the other, I strongly believe in the right of all Internet users to freely link to the content of other users’ websites.
Having formed the opinion that Google and Facebook were destroying the Internet by their dominance, I was dismayed - but eventually heartened - to see the inventor of the Internet Tim Berners-Lee apparently siding with them, in opinion articles and his submission to the Australian Parliamentary Committee.
Likewise ‘father’ of the Internet Vint Cerf told the Committee (admittedly on behalf of his current employer Google): ‘Links are the cornerstones of open access to information online; requiring a search engine (or anyone else) to pay for them undermines one of the fundamental principles of the Internet as we know it today.’
They were affirming the basis upon which I developed the CathNews website in 1999, which still publishes links and synopses of news stories concerning the Catholic Church.
We would publish snippets of the article, with the idea that we were sending the reader to the original source and not ‘stealing’ the media organisation’s content. Of course the length of the snippets was the key factor in determining whether the content was being stolen.
I never imagined that the Australian Government might one day require us to pay to publish links to other websites.
Sometimes other Internet users would write to me to ask permission to link to our content and I would reply quite definitively that there was no need to seek permission to publish links, because that was what the internet was all about.
I remember Rupert Murdoch asserting at some point many years ago, that websites - like ours perhaps - were stealing his content. He did not acknowledge that they were also delivering him a broader audience. That remains the sticking point of his battle with Google and Facebook today.