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June 23, 2020updated 07 Nov 2023 5:41am

2,000 US publishers push for Journalism Preservation Act as report accuses Google of market abuse

By William Turvill

US news publishers have sent a report to regulators alleging that Google has used its online market dominance to “strong-arm” them into unfavourable content agreements.

The News Media Alliance (NMA), which represents 2,000 news media groups across the US, wants the research – based on more than a year of interviews and consultations with its members – to help inform current investigations by the Department of Justice and the Attorney General.

It is also pushing for Washington to pass the Journalism Competition & Preservation Act, which would allow news publishers to collectively negotiate better terms with tech platforms.

The report highlights several Google features for concern, including:

  • Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
  • Google Discover
  • Google News
  • As well as the main search engine, which it fears is becoming a “walled garden” offering fewer links to news websites.

In a letter to Attorney General William Barr, NMA boss David Chavern said: “Google unquestionably sends substantial traffic to news publishers, but it has also misused its monopoly power to compensate news publishers at rates far below the that which would prevail in a competitive market and deprive publishers of adequate control over that content and the data around it.”

The 33-page report claims that a past court ruling allowing Google to use snippets of news and photographs is likely now outdated.

It said: “A court taking a hard, fresh look at Google would likely find that many of its current uses of newspaper content exceed what fair use permits – and thus, that Google has no legal right to use this content absent a license.

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“Given that reality, Google should be entering into fair negotiations, and mutually acceptable written agreements, with the news publishers for each specific contemplated use of their content, negotiations that would allow the news industry to attempt to negotiate compensation and control if the playing field were remotely equal.”

On AMP – which directs Googlers to stripped-down publisher news pages with shortened load times – the NMA claims the tech company “effectively gave the news publishers no choice but to implement” or else they would “lose critical placement in mobile search and the resulting search traffic”.

It added: “Publishers were not only forced to build mirror-image websites using this format, but Google caches all articles in the AMP format and directly serves this content to mobile users.

“This subverts the core principle that grounded the early copyright decisions protecting Google – namely, that a search engine is a fair use primarily because it acts as an electronic pointer to the original website.

“AMP keeps users in Google’s ecosystem while creating several disadvantages for news publishers – including making it more difficult in some cases to form direct relationships with their readers, reducing their subscription conversion rates, limiting the use of interactive features in AMP articles, reducing publisher ad revenues, and impairing their collection of certain user data.”

On Google News, the NMA said the search giant “used its market dominant position to force news publishers into the use of their content” on its app.

The NMA described Google Discover as being “akin to social media” because it groups together users’ interests. The group is concerned that news publishers lose out on building reader relationships, and said: “Google never negotiated any specific use license with the news publishers for this content.”

On Google Search, the NMA claims it is “increasingly becoming a ‘walled garden’ – a final destination rather than an electronic pointer to news websites. Google has again used its market dominant position to force acquiescence to new features that diminish the chances that users will visit the news websites.”

Read the full report here.

Picture: Picture: Reuters/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

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