California bill requiring Big Tech to pay for news gains momentum

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A California bill that would force big tech companies to pay news outlets to publish and use their news content cleared another critical hurdle Thursday.

The measure is among hundreds of bills that passed the state Senate and Assembly this week ahead of Friday, the last day a bill can pass in its original chamber and have a chance of becoming law later this year.

The bill, which passed the Assembly with bipartisan support, would require companies like Google and Meta to share advertising revenue with California media companies. derived from the news and other reported content. The amount would be determined through an arbitration process. The bill would also require that at least 70% of the revenue share go towards the salaries of journalists.

Such payments would help local media organizations survive after many have seen their ad revenue plummet in the digital age, said the bill’s author, Democratic Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks. California has lost more than 100 news organizations in the last decade, she said.

“The California Journalism Preservation Act won’t save journalism, but it will support news outlets and journalists at a time when the stakes couldn’t be higher,” Wicks said Thursday.

The bill is backed by major unions for journalists, including the News Media Alliance and the Media Guild of the West, which represents The Los Angeles Times and other newsrooms. The California Federation of Labor rallied to support the bill Thursday, saying it would protect journalistic jobs by “leveling the playing field between publishers and social media websites.”

Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, has threatened to remove all news content from its platforms if the bill becomes law. The company made similar threats to the US Congress in 2022 and to the Canadian government this year when those lawmakers attempted similar measures to boost local journalism.

Meta also said the California bill would create a “slush fund” that would primarily benefit out-of-state newspaper chains and hedge funds.

“The bill fails to recognize that publishers and broadcasters put their content on our platform themselves and that substantial consolidation in the California local news industry occurred 15 years ago, long before Facebook was widely used,” a Meta spokesperson said in a statement a day earlier. of the vote “It is disappointing that California legislators appear to prioritize the best interests of national and international media companies over their own constituents.”

Wicks called Meta’s statement “an empty threat,” noting that “these are companies that have made billions and billions of dollars while our newsrooms are closing all over the state of California.”

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Opponents of the bill, including LION Publishers, a national newsgroup representing more than 450 independent newsrooms, have also raised concerns that the measure encourages more clickbait news content. An analysis of the bill, conducted by the Legislature, says news organizations are more likely to invest in high-quality, investigative journalism if they are in good financial health. The analysis also said that concerns that the bill could violate the First Amendment are “mostly exaggerated.”

Republican Assemblyman Bill Essayli, a co-author of the bill, said he does not impose a tax on Big Tech.

“I don’t support corporate welfare… but I don’t support unjust enrichment either,” Essayli said Thursday. “If you are taking the product of other people’s labor and you are benefiting financially from it, you must compensate them for it.”

Democratic Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi urged Wicks to continue working with local news organizations to make sure small, ethnically owned newsrooms are not left behind. Wicks said that she is committed to resolving that concern.

“I know this is still a work in progress, but I also know that doing nothing is not an option,” Wicks said.

The bill now heads to the state Senate.