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Google and Facebook Must Pay for Local Journalism

 |  April 20, 2020

By David Chavern, New York Times

The U.S. should emulate the French government’s resolve to fight for the news media industry.

Much of the news business is being hammered by the decline in advertising because of Covid-19, just when the public most needs reliable information. While digital audiences are way up, the rapid contraction in revenue has so far caused 33,000 news media employees to be furloughed, to be laid off or to suffer reduced pay.

But in the midst of this crisis, something very good just happened for journalism: French antitrust authorities ordered Google to negotiate with publishers to pay for the news content shown in search results. It is the first time that a major digital platform has been required to pay for news anywhere.

France’s action stems from a new European Union Copyright Directive, and Germany and other countries will be next. This means that in the United States, the pressure to similarly compensate stressed local publishers will be extremely high.

There are several ways the pressure on Google could be brought to bear. If Congress passes the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, publishers would be allowed to negotiate rates with Google as a group. Alternatively, publishers might finally be forced to undertake their own lengthy copyright litigation. In any case, I believe that Google will eventually be required to treat news publishers, like music publishers, as equals.

We have argued for some time that the big tech platforms should be an answer for journalism, rather than a problem. They are the main distributors of news and they benefit greatly from the engagement that comes with it. Just think of all of the hundreds of millions of people who went to Google and Facebook over the last few months for information about the coronavirus.

These platforms pay for music and lots of other kinds of content, and last year Facebook even agreed to pay a limited number of publishers for its News Tab. But most local publishers were left out of that deal. And Google has refused to pay them anything.

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