What web’s inventor told Australian senate about Google law: Full Text

World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee went almost as far as describing Australia’s push to force Google and Facebook to pay for showing news content links as reinventing the web in an unworkable format.

Both Google and Facebook have called “unworkable” the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code bill which would mainly benefit big media businesses giving them the power to force tech giants to pay what they want or  face a exhausting arbitration (that’s how google and Facebook see it).

Facebook says it will have to block Australians from sharing  news   and Google says it will have no choice but to disable its search engine in Australia if the bill becomes a law.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, in a submission to a Senate inquiry, said that Australia’s proposed law risks “breaching a fundamental principle of the web”.

The full text of his submission is below:

Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2020 Submission 46

18 January, 2021 
Senate Standing Committees on Economics  
Parliament House  
Canberra ACT 2600  

To the Senate Standing Committee on Economics,  

I am grateful for the opportunity to make a brief submission for the Committee’s consideration,  as it conducts its inquiry into the proposed News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory  Bargaining Code. I write in my capacity as the inventor of the World Wide Web, which I  invented in 1989, first developing an information management system and then implementing  the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol client and server via  the internet. The World Wide Web is now accessed by more than half the world’s population,  including an estimated 21 million Australians.  

My comments do not address the entirety of the proposed Code, but are limited to the area  where my perspective is most relevant. Specifically, I am concerned that the Code risks  breaching a fundamental principle of the web by requiring payment for linking between certain  content online.  

On the web, the sharing of content rests on the ability of users to do two things: to create  content, typically text but also other media; and to make links in that content to other parts of  the web. This is consistent with human discourse in general, in which there is a right, and often  a duty, to make references. An academic paper is required to list references to other papers  which are related. A journalist is normally required to refer to their sources. The discourse of  bloggers involves links from one blog to another. The value of the blog is both in the text and in  the carefully chosen links.  

Before search engines were effective on the web, following links from one page to another was  the only way of finding material. Search engines make that process far more effective, but they  can only do so by using the link structure of the web as their principal input. So links are  fundamental to the web.  

As I understand it, the proposed code seeks to require selected digital platforms to have to  negotiate and possibly pay to make links to news content from a particular group of news  providers.  

Requiring a charge for a link on the web blocks an important aspect of the value of web  content. To my knowledge, there is no current example of legally requiring payments for links  to other content. The ability to link freely — meaning without limitations regarding the content  of the linked site and without monetary fees — is fundamental to how the web operates, how it  has flourished till present, and how it will continue to grow in decades to come.  

Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2020 Submission 46

Like many others, I support the right of publishers and content creators to be properly  rewarded for their work. This is without doubt an issue that needs addressing, both in Australia  and around the world. However, I firmly believe that constraints on the use of hypertext links  are not the correct way to achieve this goal. It would undermine the fundamental principle of  the ability to link freely on the web, and is inconsistent with how the web has been able to  operate over the past three decades. If this precedent were followed elsewhere it could make  the web unworkable around the world. I therefore respectfully urge the committee to remove  this mechanism from the code.  

With many thanks for your kind consideration.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web while at CERN in 1989. He is the Co-Founder of the  World Wide Web Foundation, Co-Founder and President of the Open Data Institute and Founder of the  World Wide Consortium (W3C). Sir Tim holds positions at Oxford University and Massachusetts Institute  of Technology (MIT). He is the co-founder and CTO of Inrupt, a startup launched to ensure the success of  the Solid platform to give people control of their own data and to re-decentralize the Web. In 2004 he  was knighted by H.M. Queen Elizabeth and in 2007 he was awarded the Order of Merit. He was awarded  the ACM Turing Award in 2017, referred to as the “Nobel Prize of Computing.” Tim is a long time  defender of Net Neutrality and the openness of the web.