‘Unworkable around the world’: Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, is the latest internet all-star to slam Australia’s media bargaining code

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  • Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, told a Senate committee that Australia’s proposed media bargaining code risks “breaching a fundamental principle of the web”.
  • His opposition lies in provisions which could compel internet giants like Facebook and Google to pay news publishers for hosting their hyperlinks.
  • The proposal “could make the web unworkable around the world,” Berners-Lee said.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Australia’s draft media bargaining code has found another significant opponent: Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, who told a Parliamentary committee on Monday the proposed legislation “risks breaching a fundamental principle of the web”.

In a submission to a Senate committee deliberating the proposed laws, Berners-Lee, who created the World Wide Web information management system in 1989, said he was concerned by the push to force internet giants like Facebook and Google to compensate news publishers for hosting links to their 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,” Berners-Lee said.

The computer scientist said the possibility of a mandatory code which compels sites to pay up when they share a relevant hyperlink could “undermine the fundamental principle of the ability to link freely on the web”.

Berners-Lee added “there is a right, and often a duty, to make references” online, pointing to the importance of journalists and academics linking back to prior work.

While his succinct statement did not address the entirety of the draft legislation, Berners-Lee said that if the code’s payment provisions were deployed globally, they could “make the web unworkable around the world.”

“I therefore respectfully urge the committee to remove this mechanism from the code,” he said.

Berners-Lee joins “father of the internet” Vint Cerf in opposing the draft legislation.

Cerf, who acts as Google’s ‘chief internet evangelist’, reiterated his opposition to the proposed code earlier this month, telling the Senate committee the laws would “effectively inhibit discovery of information of interest to [Australians] by limiting what they can discover through search.”

The US Government has also voiced its stern opposition to the laws, with US trade representatives and the Chamber of Commerce telling the Senate committee the proposed legislation is skewed against Facebook and Google.

Some of Australia’s biggest media organisations, including News Corp Australia, Seven West Media, and Nine (the owner of this masthead) have issued their public support for the draft legislation, saying it would address a “significant imbalance in bargaining power” between them, Facebook, and Google.

The draft legislation was introduced to Parliament in December. Submissions to the inquiry closed on Monday, with its first public hearing set for this Friday.

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