The California Journalism Preservation Act, Assembly Bill 886, introduced Feb. 14 by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, would require digital advertising companies like Facebook and Google to pay publishers a “journalism usage fee” each time they use local news content alongside advertising.
If passed, the bill would also require eligible digital journalism providers to spend at least 70% of the funds they receive on news journalists employed by them and on maintaining the production and distribution of news or information that is of public interest.
According to the bill, online platforms that would be required to pay the usage fees need at least 50 million active users or subscribers in the United States or must have a market capitalization greater than $550 billion.
Zak Castilo-Krings, legislative director for Wicks, said the bill was created because Wicks believes in the importance of a free and diverse journalistic ecosystem. She says they are the backbone of a healthy democracy.
“Because of the market share, and the reach large platforms like Google and Facebook have, they are at an advantage, and many local news providers are basically forced to share their content so that they can be accessed by readers,” Castillo-Krings said. “All the money from the advertising flows to the platforms, which contributes to the downsizing and underfunding of newsrooms, which ultimately reduces the output in quality journalism.”
The bill is similar to the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, a federal bill that was introduced by the U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), but did not pass. The federal bill would have allowed news organizations to negotiate fair terms for access to their content by Google, Facebook and other digital platforms.
Wicks partnered with the News Media Alliance and the California News Publishers Association, supporters of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, to create the bill.
Brittney Barsotti, general counsel for the California News Publishers Association, said they took components of the federal bill that were applicable, like the definitions of platform providers, access content, moderation clause and other sections and then applied it to AB 886.
“Currently, online platforms, such as Facebook and Google take up to 70% of all digital advertising revenue,” Barsotti said. “They utilize our members’ content without compensating them for it and continue to profit.”
NetChoice, a trade association of tech businesses whose common goal is to keep the internet safe for free speech and free enterprise, opposed the federal bill and AB 886.
“NetChoice as an organization, fully agrees with lawmakers that local journalism is important, that we need to have a free press and that we need to have a diversity of views among the free press,” Chris Marchese, litigation center director for NetChoice, said. “But this bill does not do that. This is simply going to close off the open internet and make it that much more difficult, that much more expensive for people to share information and to learn from each other.”
Barsotti said this bill is an opportunity to ensure the future of journalism because it would compensate publishers for their work.
“Journalism plays a critical role in our democracy and this bill would make sure that publishers regardless of their size are compensated for the use of their content and provided some equity,” Barsotti said. “The way it is now is that publishers have to agree to all their terms of service and turn over essentially all of their content to be found on there and it has created a substantial inequity.
In an emailed comment Chris Argentieri, president and COO of the Los Angeles Times and California Times, expressed the outlet’s support for the bill.
“We join CNPA and NMA in supporting this proposed legislation which could help local news publishers, like the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune, regain some of the revenue associated with the original journalism we produce and help fund the journalists covering local government, breaking news and a range of other important stories around California,” Argentieri said.
Marchese said that what lawmakers are doing is a noble goal of protecting journalism, but AB 886 is not the way to do it.
“This is a way to end up undermining and hurting local journalism because at the end of the day, if you tax the open internet, you’re gonna get less of it,” Marchese said. “If sharing links to content is enough to trigger attacks, you’re going to see avoidance which means not posting links.”
According to the bill online platforms are prohibited to retaliate against any eligible digital journalism provider who asserts their rights if the bill is passed.
“This is a game changer in California for journalism,” Barsotti said.
AB 886 is currently in committee and is set to be heard on April 25 at 1:30 p.m.
For more information on the California Journalism Preservation Act visit the California Legislative Information website.
Samira Felix can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.