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California bill to charge Facebook, Google for news on hold

The California State Capitol in Sacramento. (Photo by Matthew Keys)
The California State Capitol in Sacramento. (Photo by Matthew Keys)

A California lawmaker has put on hold a bill that would allow news publishers to charge Facebook and Google for linking to their content.

Despite having bipartisan support among state lawmakers, Assembly Bill 886 — better known as the “California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA)” — will not be considered during this legislative session.

Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, an Oakland lawmaker who co-sponsored the bill, said support among her peers has not diminished despite a massive lobbying effort by major technology companies who argue that the proposal amounts to a “link tax” that could do more harm than good.

“Over 100 publications have closed in the past 10 years,” Wicks said in an interview with the San Jose Mercury News this week. “At the same time, we have ‘big tech’ making record profits in part off content that the publishers have produced.”

Under the bill, news publishers would be allowed to negotiate a fee in exchange for Facebook, Google and other digital platforms linking to their content. Some publishers have said the proposal won’t work as designed, arguing it would mostly benefit hedge fund-backed news outlets, and would probably result in Google and Facebook pulling support for news.

Facebook, which is owned by Meta Platforms, has already blocked access to news in some countries where similar proposals have passed, including Australia and Canada. Independent publishers there have started to complain that the drop in web traffic has impacted their ability to generate revenue.

Officials at Facebook say they intend to block news in California if the CJPA passes. The move would also impact news publishers on Instagram, which is co-owned with Facebook. Representatives at Google say the company is evaluating its options.

The California proposal will now be delayed until at least the 2024 legislative session, which gives lawmakers and news outlets time to see the long-term effects of similar proposals in other countries.

The bill is backed by the California News Publishers Association. Opponents include the non-profit news outlet CalMatters, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and the California Chamber of Commerce, among others. Solano NewsNet, a local news organization that is owned by The Desk‘s parent company Solano Media, also opposes the measure.