Google Challenges California’s Proposed “Link Tax” Law, Threatens to Remove News Sites

Google Challenges California’s Proposed “Link Tax” Law, Threatens to Remove News Sites

Google has announced it will begin testing the removal of links to California news websites in response to the California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA), a proposed state bill that seeks to impose a “link tax” on digital platforms linking to news articles. The tech giant argues that the law would severely impact its operations and the broader news ecosystem within the state.
The Controversy Around CJPA

The CJPA aims to require platforms like Google to pay publishers for the links and snippets of news articles shown in search results and news feeds. “We have long said that this is the wrong approach to supporting journalism,” stated a Google spokesperson. The company fears that if the bill passes, it would drastically alter the services it can provide to Californians and the traffic it can direct to local publishers.

Google claims that the bill would primarily benefit large media conglomerates and hedge funds that have been lobbying for its passage. These groups might use the funds from CJPA to buy and gut local newspapers, leading to a rise in “ghost papers” staffed by skeleton crews, producing minimal and often subpar content. According to Google, this could also disadvantage smaller publishers and restrict consumer access to a diverse range of local media.

Google’s Response and Testing

As part of its opposition strategy, Google is conducting a temporary experiment with a small percentage of California users by removing links to news sites potentially covered by CJPA. “The testing process involves removing links to California news websites to measure the impact of the legislation on our product experience,” the spokesperson explained. This is seen as a proactive measure to gauge how the law could affect their service delivery.

Furthermore, Google has paused further investments in the California news ecosystem, including new partnerships through its Google News Showcase and planned expansions of the Google News Initiative. These initiatives have been crucial in helping news organizations across the globe adapt to the digital landscape, indicating a significant pullback from their commitment in California due to legislative uncertainties.

A Call for Alternative Solutions

Google emphasizes that its efforts over the past two decades have been centered on supporting the news industry through the changing digital era. The company has rolled out the Google News Showcase, which is active in 26 countries and includes over 2,500 publications, and the Google News Initiative, supporting thousands of journalists globally.

The tech giant is urging California lawmakers to consider alternative approaches that do not compromise the state’s news industry. “To avoid an outcome where all parties lose and the California news industry is left worse off, we urge lawmakers to take a different approach,” the spokesperson said. Google proposes a model involving predictable, broad-based contributions that support a healthy news industry without disproportionately benefiting the largest players at the expense of smaller, local publishers.

The Stance of Lawmakers and Industry Observers

The reaction from California’s lawmakers and the news industry has been mixed. Some see CJPA as a necessary step to ensure that publishers are fairly compensated in the digital age, while others agree with Google that the bill could harm the very industry it aims to protect.

Industry experts argue that the legislation might lead to reduced visibility for news sites, impacting their traffic and, subsequently, advertising revenue. This could counterintuitively weaken the financial stability of news organizations, especially smaller outfits that rely heavily on digital platforms for audience reach.

Looking Ahead

As the debate continues, Google is committed to working with legislators to find a viable solution that allows them to continue linking to news content while supporting the broader news ecosystem in California. The outcome of this legislative battle could set a significant precedent for how tech giants treat digital news content not only in California but across the United States.

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