This editorial originally appeared in The Omaha World-Herald.
Tech giants such as Google and Facebook enjoy enormous advantages under the law. They not only decide what material will appear online on their platforms; they also decide how much compensation — if any — go to the organizations that actually produce that content.
News publishers produce an immense quantity of material that appears on those online platforms. It's high-quality material, in strong demand by readers, and it generates tremendous ad revenue for the online giants. Consider the events of the past year alone: The arrival of COVID and the extraordinary transformations in our lives due to the pandemic. The important national dialogue regarding policing and a wide array of racial issues. Week after week, month after month, journalists have provided invaluable coverage of those issues.
During that time, the revenue trends for Google and Facebook have been strongly on the rise, powered in considerable measure by the news product generated at the local level. Yet when news organizations demand that these tech giants provide fair compensation for journalistic material, Google, Facebook and other corporations refuse. The tech sector's intransigence unfairly chokes off an important revenue stream for news organizations, needlessly placing a major burden on their financial operations.
This revenue squeeze hits small, local news organizations especially hard. This concern is of direct relevance to a state such as Iowa, with its hundreds of small towns and villages. Local news operations are a key part of civic life and vitality. When those news outlets suffer, so do their communities.
The tech firms' stranglehold on revenues has raised concern around the globe, and momentum is building for government action. Australia, for example, recently passed a law requiring digital platforms to pay local media outlets and publishers to link their content in news feeds or search results. Other countries are debating similar action.
In Congress, legislation known as the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act would provide a vehicle for a sensible resolution of this issue. Current antitrust law forbids news organizations from conducting joint negotiations. The JCPA would allow a one-time exemption, enabling news organizations as a group to negotiate an equitable agreement with the tech sector on compensation.
This legislation deserves the strong support of Iowa's representatives in Congress. A revenue agreement under the JCPA would benefit local journalism and the U.S. communities it serves — a breakthrough clearly in the public interest.
Congress must act. It's time for the tech stranglehold to end.