Microsoft wades into Facebook news fight by siding with European publishers

Microsoft is joining forces with publishers in Europe to call for an Australia-style system that would force tech platforms such as Google and Facebook to pay news organizations for content.

The company said Monday that it would team up with media industry groups like the European Publishers Council to lobby for such a policy, which lawmakers around the world are now considering.

The move comes after Facebook (FB) stopped people from finding news on its platform in Australia last week rather than pay publishers for their content, a decision that produced a global backlash and generated negative headlines for the social media company.

“We welcome Microsoft’s recognition of the value that our content brings to the core businesses of search engines and social networks,” Christian Van Thillo, the European Publishers Council’s chairman, said in a statement.

Australia’s government is pushing legislation that would allow certain media outlets to bargain with tech companies so they could be paid for distribution of the news they produce. Both parties would enter arbitration if they can’t reach an agreement.

The European Union and the United States face growing pressure to adopt similar measures. Canada’s government has said it plans to introduce legislation in the coming months.

Facebook has forcefully opposed the Australian legislation. Last week, it took the extraordinary step of banning users in the country from finding or sharing news on its service in protest of the policy. Google, meanwhile, went from threatening to pull its search engine to cutting deals with some of the country’s largest media organizations, including Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

Microsoft (MSFT), which owns the search engine Bing, is taking a different approach. It voiced its support for the legislation and has committed to keeping its services in Australia if it takes effect, seeing a chance to steal market share from rival Google (GOOGL).

“It was an opportunity to combine good business with a good cause,” President Brad Smith said in a blog post earlier this month.

The company has said it would back similar measures in other countries, including in the European Union, where policymakers are debating new laws that would rein in the power of Big Tech companies.

Margrethe Vestager, the EU commissioner leading the charge on tech regulation, is holding a consultation on the legislation with members of European Parliament this week.

New copyright laws in Europe require search engines and social media platforms to share revenue with publishers if their content is displayed. But European publishers and Microsoft want leaders to enact “additional regulatory measures” to ensure publishers have clout in negotiations.

Some French publishers have signed up with Google, but without an arbitration mechanism, they fear the press “might not have the economic strength to negotiate fair and balanced agreements with these gatekeeper tech companies, who might otherwise threaten to walk away from negotiations or exit markets entirely,” according to Monday’s press release.

“Access to fresh, broad and deep press coverage is critical to the success of our democracies,” Microsoft vice president Casper Klynge said in a statement.