Google Removes Links to Some California News Sites to Protest Fee Proposal

Jana J. Pruet
By Jana J. Pruet
April 15, 2024California
Google recently removed links to news publishers for some Californians. The tech company says it’s testing the waters for if a new law becomes enacted that will require tech companies to pay a journalism usage fee to news outlets.

Google has begun removing California news websites from search results for some users in response to a state proposal that would require the search giant to pay media companies for linking to their content.

The tech giant announced the move in a blog post on Friday, calling it a “short-term test for a small percentage of users … to measure the impact of the legislation on our product experience.” Google said it would also pause new investments in the California news industry, including its partnership initiative with news outlets and its product licensing program.

The move comes in response to the California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA), a bill that would require tech companies such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft to pay a certain percentage of advertising revenue to media companies for linking to their content. A panel of three judges would decide how much the companies would have to pay through an arbitration process.

“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,” wrote Jaffer Zaidi, Google’s vice president for global news partnerships, in a blog post.

The legislation aims to prevent the loss of journalism jobs, which have been disappearing rapidly as legacy media companies struggle to profit in the digital age.

According to Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, more than 2,500 newspapers have closed in the United States since 2005. Democratic state Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, who authored the bill, says California has lost more than 100 news outlets over the past 10 years.

“This is a bill about basic fairness—it’s about ensuring that platforms pay for the content they repurpose,” Ms. Wicks said. “We are committed to continuing negotiations with Google and all other stakeholders to secure a brighter future for California journalists and ensure that the lights of democracy stay on.”

Last year, the state Assembly passed the bill with bipartisan support despite opposition and lobbying efforts from Big Tech companies. It would still have to pass the California Senate later this year before it becomes law.

The bill’s supporters claim it would level the playing field between news publishers and large digital platforms, providing more equity to local news organizations that depend on Google’s search engine for distribution.

Google’s search engine generates more than $200 billion in digital ad revenue each year, while news publishers’ ad revenues have plummeted over the past two decades.


Opponents, including Google, Meta, and some independent news organizations, argue that the legislation amounts to a “link tax” that would further harm local news outlets while benefiting out-of-state newspapers and hedge funds.

Google’s Vice President of News Richard Gingras told California lawmakers in a hearing last year that the tech company provides significant support to local journalism, including financial grants and training to nearly 1,000 local news publications in 2023.

Mr. Gingras said Google’s search engine, which holds an estimated 90 percent share of the market, should be considered “the largest newsstand on Earth” because it helps users connect to news outlets more than 24 billion times a month.

“This traffic, in turn, helps publishers make money by showing ads or attracting new subscribers,” he said, adding that each click on a Google link is estimated to be worth 5 cents to 7 cents to a news site.

The temporary removal of links to news websites is not a new tactic for tech companies when they are pushing back against legislation they oppose.

Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, blocked news content from Canadian publishers after lawmakers passed similar legislation. The company made similar threats to Congress and California lawmakers last year.

Google threatened to follow Meta’s actions in Canada but later agreed to pay the news industry 100 million Canadian dollars ($73 million).

If Google completely blocked news websites, more news industry job losses could follow, but experts claim the tech company would also take a financial hit without news content.

“Google would be damaging itself enormously if it decided to stop using newspaper content,” said Brandon Kressin, an antitrust attorney representing News Media Alliance and other news publishers, at a hearing in December. “They would be cutting off their nose to spite their own face.”

The political battle over how Google’s dominant search engine can throttle access to various news sources comes against the backdrop of legal trouble that could lead to decisions that would disrupt its internet empire.

Federal Antitrust Case Against Google

In May, the U.S. Justice Department’s lawyers will present their closing arguments to a federal judge who, later this year, is expected to issue a decision in the biggest antitrust trial in 25 years.

Following another antitrust trial that ended in December, a federal jury decided that Google had turned its smartphone app store running on its Android software into a monopoly, limiting customer choices while boosting the company through unreasonably high commissions charged for in-app purchases. A hearing on the changes Google will have to make is set for next month.

California has made various attempts to bolster local journalism through initiatives including a $25 million multiyear, state-funded program with the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism to place more than three dozen early-career journalists in local newsrooms annually. Lawmakers are also considering a measure that would expand tax credits for local news organizations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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