A problematic bill that aims to protect journalism by allowing news organizations to band together in negotiations with Google and Facebook is drawing more opposition this week.
The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act of 2021 “is not a proposal we can support in its current form,” the digital rights group Public Knowledge said Thursday.
The bill would grant a four-year antitrust exemption to news organizations (including print, television and online companies), in order to allow them to negotiate collectively with online platforms that draw at least 1 billion monthly active users.
The measure is supported by the industry organization News Media Alliance as well as some of the country's largest newspapers, which clearly hope the bill will help turn around the news industry's fortunes.
By one well-publicized estimate, newspapers' ad revenues declined from $49 billion in 2006 to $16.5 billion in 2017. While the news industry has often blamed Google and Facebook for the dropoff, at least some of the decrease is attributable to the growth of Craigslist and other online classified listings.
Public Knowledge points out several problems with the bill, including that it could end up harming smaller players.
“Allowing a news media cartel by statute ... may actually hurt local publishers by deepening existing power relationships between the largest platforms and largest publishers,” Public Knowledge writes.
Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York, made the same point in written testimony submitted recently to Congress. He told lawmakers that granting newspaper owners an antitrust exemption could “entrench the interests of the largest companies on both sides of the table, media and technology.”
Public Knowledge also points out that Google and Facebook don't need to forge any deals with news organizations to display links or snippets of articles, because the tech companies have the legal right to do so: Linking to articles doesn't implicate copyright law, and judges have ruled that displaying brief excerpts is a fair use of copyrighted material.
“Digital platforms like Google and Facebook do not currently negotiate with news sites for the right to link to their stories, just like regular users don’t need a license to drop a link in a tweet or a Facebook post,” the organization writes.
“A cartel of news sites is exactly as powerless to prevent Facebook or Google from linking to its members’ content as a small site would be negotiating on its own.”
Still, Public Knowledge says it is concerned that judges might interpret the bill in a way that effectively rewrites copyright law -- a result that would “alter the nature of the internet and make it more costly and more difficult to access information.”
Public Knowledge isn't the only one raising that concern. The organization, along with five others -- the Authors Alliance, Copia Institute, Fight for the Future, Library Futures Foundation and Niskanen Center -- wrote to lawmakers Thursday to ask them to explicitly state in the bill that copyright protections “are not being expanded to include linking, or fair use snippets of linked material.”
The groups add that even with that clause, the bill is hardly the best fix for the troubles facing the news industry.
“The better solution to solving the journalism crisis is to directly help the most harmed newsrooms, rather than allowing our largest media conglomerates to become a cartel,” they write.