IT WAS QUITE the dust-up. On January 22nd Mel Silva, Google’s managing director in Australia, claimed before the country’s Senate that a set of laws it was pondering were so damaging that, if they came into force, the firm would have “no real choice” but to withdraw its search engine from the country. Lawmakers condemned Ms Silva’s remarks as “blackmail”. Scott Morrison, the prime minister, headed for the nearest flagpole: “Australia makes our rules for things you can do in Australia,” he said. “We don’t respond to threats.”
At issue are new rules that would force big tech to pay publishers to display their news alongside search results and social-media posts. The argument has been simmering for years. News publishers, in Australia and elsewhere, have struggled in the past two decades as advertising money has flowed out of their pages and onto the internet—most of it to just two firms. Between them Google and Facebook account for perhaps 60% of worldwide digital-advertising revenues.
Publishers argue that news stories are widely shared on Facebook, and are at least one reason why people use Google’s search engine. That, they say, entitles them to a share of the two firms’ spoils. The tech giants retort that, although they do not pay publishers directly, they do send readers to their websites, and that is plenty.