California bill would force Big Tech to pay for news content

Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks speaks at a news conference in Sacramento.
Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, shown in January, introduced a bill Monday that, if approved, would mandate that digital advertising giants pay news outlets a “journalism usage fee” when they sell advertising alongside new stories.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

In the latest attempt by legislators to rein in Silicon Valley, a measure has been introduced in California that would force tech companies such as Facebook and Google to pay publishers for news content from which their platforms profit.

The California Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, announced by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) on Monday, if approved, would direct digital advertising giants to pay news outlets a “journalism usage fee” when they sell advertising alongside news content. Additionally, the bill would require publishers to invest 70% of the profits from that fee in journalism jobs.

The bill has strong support from news advocacy groups including the California News Publishers Assn. and the News/Media Alliance. (The Los Angeles Times is a member of both organizations and supports the proposed legislation.)


“Big Tech has become the de facto gatekeeper of journalism and is using its dominance to set rules for how news content is displayed, prioritized and monetized,” said CNPA Chairperson Emily Charrier. “Our members are the sources of that journalism, and they deserve to be paid fair market value for news they originate.”

The California measure is similar to a federal bill introduced last year that would allow publishers to collectively bargain for payments from tech companies that have news content on their platforms.

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News/Media Alliance Executive Vice President Danielle Coffey said she hopes Congress reintroduces legislation at the federal level “to give news publishers across the U.S. the same ability to be fairly compensated by the dominant tech platforms.”

Facebook’s parent company, Meta Platforms, and Google declined to comment on the proposed California bill but have opposed the federal bill.

Meta published a statement via Twitter in December that said it would “consider removing news from our platform altogether” if federal lawmakers moved ahead with the legislation, and that “publishers and broadcasters put their content on our platform themselves because it benefits their bottom line.”

Wicks said she wanted to improve on the federal legislation, which went the route of altering antitrust laws, to be more inclusive of smaller newspapers and focus on the basic issue of paying publishers for content.


“What we’re sort of trying to do here really is level the playing field,” Wicks said. “We just want to make sure that work [of publishers] is honored in a way as opposed to being exploited by Facebook or Google or others who repurpose that content without paying for part of it.”

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Unlike on Google’s platform, which aggregates content from news sources, Facebook’s users are the ones reposting news content to its site. Even so, Wicks said Facebook still bears responsibility for how the algorithm promotes content and displays it in a way that might keep users on the platform rather than clicking through links.

Wicks was inspired by the success of similar legislation passed in Australia in early 2021, which led to digital platforms paying nearly $140 million to Australian news organizations in its first year, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. One Australian publisher estimated tech money could fund up to 30% of editorial salaries, the CJR reported.

Meta blocked access to news content in Australia for several days when that law was initially proposed but later reversed the decision after talks with the government. Google also blocked news content in search results for some Canadian users last month when legislation forcing companies to pay for news links on their platforms was introduced in the country, and Meta issued a similar threat.

Google has invested in several partnerships with news organizations over the last few years, including the Google News Showcase to pay publishers for content placed in Google’s new products and the Google News Initiative, which offers training, tools, and funding for local newsrooms. Google has also said news publishers keep more than 95% of the advertising revenue they generate from using Ad Manager on their websites.

NetChoice, a tech industry trade group that includes Meta and Google, opposed the federal bill and opposes the California measure as well, saying it would “harm free speech online.”


“It’s unfortunate but unsurprising to see California copying failed proposals from the federal government and enacting them in their own state,” said Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel of NetChoice.

The bill will first go through the state Assembly’s Privacy Committee, and Wicks hopes to garner bipartisan support for the legislation on the principle of protecting democracy.

“Ensuring that we have a vibrant press, I think it’s critical, and the fact that it has been declining significantly over the last decade or so to me is incredibly concerning,” Wicks said. “I’ve worked closely with Republicans in the past on supporting bills that hold big tech accountable. And that’s my goal again this year.”