Google Fires Back Over California’s ‘Link Tax,’ Threatens to Block News

Google is pushing back against a pending bill in California that would force the search giant to pay for displaying news articles....
Google Fires Back Over California’s ‘Link Tax,’ Threatens to Block News
Written by Matt Milano
  • Google is pushing back against a pending bill in California that would force the search giant to pay for displaying news articles.

    The California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA) is designed to boost local journalism, which has been decimated by the rise of the internet, search, and most recently AI. Under the CJPA, at the end of each quarter, journalist platforms and publications would receive payments from advertising revenue, based on the number of views their platform receives.

    The bill is by no means unanimously embraced by the journalist community. The News/Media Alliance has come out in favor of the bill, as have many other organizations.

    “We applaud the California Assembly for taking decisive and direct action to save journalism through passing the California Journalism & Preservation Act (CJPA),” said News/Media Alliance President & CEO Danielle Coffey. “We are extremely encouraged to see this progress at the state level, which shows that Americans understand the importance and value of journalism to keeping their communities safe and informed and holding those in power to account. We look forward to the CJPA moving on to the Senate and working with policymakers there to pass the CJPA and restore fairness and balance to the marketplace.”

    In contrast, Free Press has come out in opposition to the CJPA, saying it is the “wrong solution” to the problem.

    “Not all policies to support local news are good ones. Unfortunately, lawmakers in California have devised a bad solution,” said Senior Director of Journalism and Civic Information Mike Rispoli. “The California Journalism Preservation Act fails to properly address the causes of the state’s journalism crisis: namely, a lack of market incentive to produce public-interest journalism, runaway media consolidation, mismanagement, and changing consumer habits.”

    Google is clearly not in favor of the bill, with Jaffer Zaidi, VP of Global News Partnerships, saying the CJPA will only benefit large media conglomerates and do little to help local journalism.

    By helping people find news stories, we help publishers of all sizes grow their audiences at no cost to them. CJPA would up-end that model. It would favor media conglomerates and hedge funds—who’ve been lobbying for this bill—and could use funds from CJPA to continue to buy up local California newspapers, strip them of journalists, and create more ghost papers that operate with a skeleton crew to produce only low-cost, and often low-quality, content. CJPA would also put small publishers at a disadvantage and limit consumers’ access to a diverse local media ecosystem.

    Zaidi says the CJPA is “unworkable” in its current form, and the company is testing the removal of links to news sources in California in response.

    As we’ve shared when other countries have considered similar proposals, the uncapped financial exposure created by CJPA would be unworkable. If enacted, CJPA in its current form would create a level of business uncertainty that no company could accept. To prepare for possible CJPA implications, we are beginning a short-term test for a small percentage of California users. The testing process involves removing links to California news websites, potentially covered by CJPA, to measure the impact of the legislation on our product experience. Until there’s clarity on California’s regulatory environment, we’re also pausing further investments in the California news ecosystem, including new partnerships through Google News Showcase, our product and licensing program for news organizations, and planned expansions of the Google News Initiative.

    Zaidi says Google is committed to working with lawmakers and publishers to achieve “a healthy news industry in California.”

    We’ve been engaging with California publishers and lawmakers throughout the legislative process and have proposed reasonable and balanced alternatives to CJPA. A healthy news industry in California will require support from both the California government and a broad base of private companies. This support should involve predictable, broad-based contributions, structured in ways that do not harm smaller, local publishers to benefit the largest players and hedge fund owners. It must also maintain the principles of the open web, which is critical to ensuring news publishers can connect with people for free.

    Looking ahead, we will continue our efforts to work with lawmakers on alternative paths that will allow us to continue linking to news and supporting the news ecosystem in California.

    It remains to be seen if the bill will pass. If it does, however, it could completely reshape how Californians get their news.

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