Big boost for India and world as US lawmakers unveil Bill to rein in Big Tech

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News organizations and policymakers in India and around the world received a major shot in the arm on Monday as US lawmakers have reportedly unveiled a revised bill that paves the way for media entities to be able to collectively negotiate with Big Tech platforms such as Google and Facebook. The US move to hand power to media organizations to legally and rightfully claim their fair share of the revenues amassed by technology giants by displaying news is a significant development for India.

As per reports, the Indian government and the country’s news organisations have both been looking to democratise the digital media space, and the development in the US in that direction is a big shot in the arms for all those who are looking for a more equitable and accountable system in revenue sharing. Incidentally, action in the USA has been preceded by actions in various other parts of the world like the EU, Canada and Australia. The issue is getting discussed in India as well now in various policy-making forums as well in the media. Earlier this year, the Competition Committee of India (CCI) launched a probe as well against Google for alleged malpractice in sharing revenue with digital news entities.

The revised version of the US bill is dubbed Journalism Competition and Preservation Act. American lawmakers who are pushing it say it “removes legal obstacles to news organisations' ability to negotiate collectively and secure fair terms from gatekeeper platforms that regularly access news content without paying for its value.” The development in the US comes at a time when representatives of Big Tech giants in India are testifying before a Parliamentary panel in New Delhi regarding anti-competitive practices. It is reported that recently, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance summoned the representatives of Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Netflix, and a few others to face some tough questions on Big Tech’s monopolistic practices in the country.

The Government, led by Minister of State for Informational Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar, has also been at the forefront of the efforts to reign in Big Tech’s said monopolistic practices in terms of netizens’ rights and revenue-sharing with digital news media. MoS Chandrasekhar recently underlined the Indian government’s focused approach on pushing for a more transparent and democratic internet space, saying in a media interview, “We expect our policies today and in the future to ensure that there is no market distortion by any platform.” As part of that drive to democratise the digital space, the IT ministry will release the first-ever audit of social media platforms’ compliance with India’s IT rules and regulations on September 30. The landmark audit, initiated by MoS Chandrasekhar, will be a quarterly affair.

In another development, India is learnt to be drawing up a whole new IT law, so far unofficially dubbed the Digital India Act, according to a news report. The new law could reportedly include provisions to address Big Tech monopolies, redefine their obligations for competition compliances, and put in place gatekeeping rules regarding market dominance etc.

In the US, the revised bill’s earlier version was introduced in March 2021 and was strongly opposed at that time by the Computer & Communications Industry Association and NetChoice – two Big Tech trade bodies. Alphabet and Meta are members of these two organisations.

When contacted, sources in The Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA) said: “We are not against big tech but we do need a fair distribution of revenues. It's heartening to see American lawmakers pushing hard to cap the monopolistic tendencies of powerful tech platforms.” Another member said: “It is a big step in the right direction. It vindicates our stand here in India as we strive to make Big Tech more transparent, inclusive, and accommodative in terms of revenue-sharing.”

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