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California Advances Online News Payment Bill

A bipartisan California bill that would make big tech pay publishers for using news that drives profits passed the state Assembly, despite a threat from Facebook parent Meta that it would remove news from its platforms.

California State Capitol
(TNS) — A bipartisan California bill that would require big technology companies to pay publishers for using news reports that help drive their profits passed the state Assembly, despite a threat this week from Facebook parent Meta that the law would spur it to remove news articles from its platforms.

The state Assembly voted 46-6 to pass AB 886, the California Journalism Preservation Act by Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, an Oakland Democrat, co-authored by Assemblymen Bill Essayli, a Riverside Republican, and Josh Lowenthal, a Democrat representing Long Beach. It now heads to the state Senate.

“Free press is in our constitution, and it is at risk right now, that is what this bill is about,” Wicks told the Assembly. “Publishers deserve to be paid a journalism usage fee relative to how much their content is used on these platforms.”

Wicks introduced the bill following the December collapse in Congress of proposed federal legislation with similar goals. That bill, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, was introduced by U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, and John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican.

AB 886 was sponsored by the California News Publishers Association, to which the Bay Area News Group belongs. The bill would set a binding arbitration process to determine a percentage of advertising revenue that internet platforms would pay news organizations for their articles. Australia and Canada have passed similar laws.

The bill is backed by a number of print and broadcast news organizations. But in addition to its chief targets — Alphabet’s Google and Meta’s Facebook — it is opposed by the ACLU of California, the California Chamber of Commerce, California Taxpayers Association, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and some online news organizations, including CalMatters.

On Wednesday, Meta in a statement said that “if the Journalism Preservation Act passes, we will be forced to remove news from Facebook and Instagram rather than pay into a slush fund that primarily benefits big out-of-state media companies under the guise of aiding California publishers.”

“The bill fails to recognize that publishers and broadcasters put their content on our platform themselves and that substantial consolidation in California’s local news industry came over 15 years ago, well before Facebook was widely used,” Meta’s statement continued. “It is disappointing that California lawmakers appear to be prioritizing the best interests of national and international media companies over their own constituents.”

Wicks said in response that “this threat from Meta is a scare tactic that they’ve tried to deploy, unsuccessfully, in every country that’s attempted this.”

“It’s egregious that one of the wealthiest companies in the world would rather silence journalists than face regulation,” Wicks said.

Six Republican lawmakers voted against the bill: Phillip Chen from Brea, Heath Flora from Ripon, Josh Hoover from Folsom, Tri Ta from Westminster, Marie Waldron from Escondido and Greg Wallis from Rancho Mirage.

“I’m afraid that this bill is going to have some serious unintended consequences,” said Hoover, who said he fears such a law would push online platforms to suppress or stop carrying news content to avoid the payments, and that it would create incentives that would benefit big national media over small publishers.

Flora called the proposed legislation an “unprecedented” private industry wealth transfer.

“Are we OK with that?” Flora asked. “What industry is next? This is a bad precedent.”

But it wasn’t just the legislature’s minority Republicans voicing opposition. Several Democrats aired similar concerns, giving the bill a courtesy pass vote while stressing that it needs more work.

“This bill runs the risk of favoring large newspapers over small newspapers, not to mention the growing movement toward nonprofit media outlets,” said Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, a Torrance Democrat. He said he’d vote for the bill “for the sake of moving this forward” but asked the authors to “make sure all media is supported.”

San Mateo Democrat Diane Papan said that “the goal of this bill is noble” but added that “the devil’s in the details,” saying she was concerned about how it deals with the way news is carried on different kinds of online platforms and adding that the arbitration principles “haven’t been fully baked.”

Essayli said that “just because something is complicated and hard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.”

“I want to be clear,” Essayli said, “I do not support corporate welfare but I also do not support unjust enrichment.”

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