Last weekend, a report was released estimating that Google profited $4.7 billion from the news industry in 2018. According to a The New York Times piece on Sunday, news links represent 40% of the clicks on Google's platform. This is content that Google does not pay for, though it often presents the headlines verbatim and strategically places advertising around the product.
"Google and Facebook don't steer news consumers to news sites out of altruism," reads Marc Tracy's report in the June 9 edition of the Times. "Rather, their middleman role allows them to take a huge proportion of online ad revenue."
Currently, the arrangement means the large tech platforms enjoy the benefit of distributing the work of professional journalists without the expense of developing the content. Thus, Silicon Valley is maximizing profits off the backs of community journalists across the nation.
House Bill 2054, also known as the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act of 2019, was introduced by Rep. David Cicilline (D) of Rhode Island on April 3 in the U.S. House of Representatives.
As written, this bill would provide a four-year exclusion under antitrust laws for the creators of news content–such as community media companies that operate your local newspaper and radio stations–that would allow such organizations to negotiate and collectively bargain with online content distributors–i.e. Facebook and Google–on terms for which the creators' content may be distributed.
Basically, it means the industry would be permitted to band together and force Facebook and Google to the table and talk about being an important partner as opposed to profiteering of the work of someone else. It's the same permission given to artists and musicians some twenty years ago to collaborate when Napster was distributing their work absent compensation for their time and talents.
The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, specifically the subcommittee on antitrust, commercial and administrative law. H.R. 2054 has bipartisan support in the House and the U.S. Senate, including the chairman and ranking member of the subcommittee where the bill currently resides.
It has five cosponsors, Reps. Doug Collins (R-GA), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), Donna Shalala (D-FL), Joe Courtney (D-CT) and Steve Stivers (R-OH) as of earlier this week.
DeSaulnier said in his floor speech prior to the introduction of the bill that tech giants, many which headquarter in his home state, should engage in some revenue-sharing agreement with those that produce the content they profit from.
"Google and Facebook, they make millions of dollars off journalists, and we think that they should contribute to that amazing asset that they have right now, largely free of charge," reads an excerpt from his statement on April 2 in the Congressional Record (Vol. 165 No. 57).
"If this trend continues, we risk permanently compromising the news organizations that are essential to uncovering corruption, holding the government and powerful corporations accountable, and sustaining our democracy," added Cicilline.
Google disagrees with the merits of the news industry's argument and says that it has "worked very hard to be a collaborative and supportive technology and advertising partner to news publishers worldwide."
I'm waiting patiently by the phone to take Google's call with an offer to help.
This bill is not a bailout, nor is it seeking any form of a government subsidy. Simply put, news publishers large and small are asking for a seat at the table with equal bargaining power to negotiate terms for content sharing with these dominant platforms. Allowing this 48-month exemption under antitrust laws will facilitate those discussions.
The journalists who create the content Google and Facebook profit from, and the organizations that support them, deserve a share of the revenue their work attracts.
"(Facebook and Google) make money off this arrangement, and there needs to be a better outcome for news publishers," said David Chavern, president and CEO of the News Media Alliance, which represents more than 2,000 newspapers across the country, including the Kentucky New Era.
This is a good bill, and we support it. We hope you'll reach out to your representatives in Congress and let them know that you do too.
Brandon Cox is the publisher of the Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville, Ky. He can be reached by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BrandonJCox.
Congressman James Comer represents the First Congressional District of Kentucky. He can be contacted through his website at https://comer.house.gov/ or by reaching out to one of his offices below:
WASHINGTON, DC OFFICE