NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate provides the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, June 23rd, 2023

A majority of Washington voters agree big tech companies should have to pay for news

A major­i­ty of vot­ers in Wash­ing­ton sup­port fed­er­al leg­is­la­tion to empow­er media out­lets to obtain fair and rea­son­able com­pen­sa­tion for their news con­tent from Alpha­bet’s Google and Meta’s Face­book, the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute’s most recent sur­vey of the Ever­green State elec­torate has found.

55% of 773 like­ly gen­er­al elec­tion vot­ers in Wash­ing­ton inter­viewed ear­li­er this month said they strong­ly or some­what agreed that big tech com­pa­nies like Google and Face­book should be oblig­at­ed to pay media pub­lish­ers for news con­tent. Only 17% some­what or strong­ly dis­agreed, and 27% were not sure.

Our ques­tion ref­er­enced the Jour­nal­ism Com­pe­ti­tion and Preser­va­tion Act, pro­posed by Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tor Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

This year’s JCPA, S.1094, has fif­teen cospon­sors, includ­ing Repub­li­can sen­a­tors like Lind­sey Gra­ham of South Car­oli­na and Cyn­thia Lum­mis of Wyoming.

The Sen­ate Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee vot­ed just last week to advance the bill, with four­teen sen­a­tors in favor and sev­en opposed, reviv­ing dis­cus­sion of it.

But even if it gets full con­sid­er­a­tion and a vote out of the Sen­ate, the House is like­ly to bury it. As Dead­line not­ed in its report­ing on the com­mit­tee vote, Kevin McCarthy is on record as staunch­ly opposed to the leg­is­la­tion.

Many pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions also con­sid­er it deeply flawed, and oppose it.

The stat­ed pur­pose of the JCPA is “to pro­vide a tem­po­rary safe har­bor for pub­lish­ers of online con­tent to col­lec­tive­ly nego­ti­ate with dom­i­nant online plat­forms regard­ing the terms on which con­tent may be dis­trib­uted.” Last year’s ver­sion, S.673, was sum­ma­rized as fol­lows (there’s no sum­ma­ry for S.1094 yet):

This bill sets out a process through which cer­tain broad­cast or dig­i­tal news providers may col­lec­tive­ly nego­ti­ate with cov­ered online plat­forms (e.g., social media com­pa­nies) regard­ing use of the news providers’ con­tent by the platforms.

Specif­i­cal­ly, the bill autho­rizes an eli­gi­ble provider (e.g., one with no more than 1,500 full-time employ­ees and non­net­work news broad­cast­ers that engage in spec­i­fied news prac­tices) to joint­ly form an enti­ty with oth­er eli­gi­ble providers to nego­ti­ate the pric­ing, terms, and con­di­tions by which cer­tain online plat­forms use the providers’ con­tent. A cov­ered plat­form is gen­er­al­ly one that (1) has at least 50 mil­lion month­ly domes­tic users, and (2) is owned or con­trolled by a per­son with either sales or a mar­ket cap­i­tal­iza­tion that exceeds a spec­i­fied amount or at least one bil­lion month­ly users worldwide.

The bill estab­lish­es require­ments con­cern­ing the for­ma­tion, gov­er­nance, oper­a­tion, and ter­mi­na­tion of the joint nego­ti­a­tion enti­ty. It also exempts from antitrust laws cer­tain actions by a joint nego­ti­a­tion enti­ty (e.g., providers joint­ly deny­ing a plat­for­m’s access to the providers’ content).

The bill out­lines require­ments gov­ern­ing the con­duct of the nego­ti­a­tions by, for exam­ple, requir­ing the par­ties to nego­ti­ate in good faith. Addi­tion­al­ly, the bill pro­vides for pri­vate rights of action if the require­ments for a nego­ti­a­tion are not met and estab­lish­es require­ments for arbi­tra­tion in lim­it­ed circumstances.

The Gov­ern­ment Account­abil­i­ty Office must study the impact of the joint nego­ti­a­tions, includ­ing their effects on local and region­al news and the employ­ment of journalists.

In gen­er­al, the bil­l’s pro­vi­sions ter­mi­nate six years after its enactment.

We were curi­ous how vot­ers here in the heart of the Pacif­ic North­west, a major tech hub, feel about big tech com­pa­nies being oblig­at­ed to pay for news, with leg­is­la­tion like the JCPA help­ing facil­i­tate com­pen­sa­tion arrangements.

So we asked:

QUESTION: Media pub­lish­ers have long argued that they aren’t being fair­ly com­pen­sat­ed for arti­cles, opin­ion pieces, and oth­er con­tent that gen­er­ates adver­tis­ing rev­enue for big tech com­pa­nies like Google or Face­book. In Con­gress, law­mak­ers from both par­ties have spon­sored pro­pos­als like the Jour­nal­ism Com­pe­ti­tion and Preser­va­tion Act, which would give pub­lish­ers a safe har­bor to col­lec­tive­ly nego­ti­ate terms with the big tech com­pa­nies for dis­tri­b­u­tion of their con­tent and agree on fair com­pen­sa­tion. How­ev­er, none of the pro­pos­als have become law yet. The big tech com­pa­nies say they already help pub­lish­ers by deliv­er­ing traf­fic, and that requir­ing them to pay for news vio­lates the prin­ci­ples on which the inter­net was built, like the idea of sites being able to freely link to each oth­er. Do you strong­ly agree, some­what agree, some­what dis­agree, or strong­ly dis­agree that big tech com­pa­nies like Google and Face­book should be oblig­at­ed to pay media pub­lish­ers for news content?

ANSWERS:

  • Agree: 55%
    • Strong­ly agree: 30%
    • Some­what agree: 25%
  • Dis­agree: 17% 
    • Some­what dis­agree: 8%
    • Strong­ly dis­agree: 9%
  • Not sure: 27%

Our sur­vey of 773 like­ly 2024 Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers was in the field from Wednes­day, June 7th through Thurs­day, June 8th, 2023.

The poll uti­lizes a blend­ed method­ol­o­gy, with auto­mat­ed phone calls to land­lines (41%) and online answers from cell phone only respon­dents (59%).

It was con­duct­ed by Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Polling (PPP) for the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute, and has a mar­gin of error of +/- 3.5% at the 95% con­fi­dence interval.

NPI and PPP have worked togeth­er for a decade and have a track record of excel­lence, as detailed in this 2022 elec­toral polling recap and this 2020 one.

Notably, the ratio of agree­ment ver­sus dis­agree­ment exceeds 3:1. More vot­ers strong­ly agree than dis­agree in total, with a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber not sure. There’s just not much oppo­si­tion to the idea of big tech com­pa­nies pay­ing for news. It’s some­thing that makes sense to a major­i­ty of peo­ple in Wash­ing­ton, the home of tech giants such as Microsoft and Ama­zon, and a place where Cal­i­for­ni­a’s tech giants, includ­ing Alpha­bet’s Google and Meta’s Face­book, also have presences.

Among those vot­ers who say they are employed by a large com­pa­ny with more than a thou­sand work­ers — which would include the afore­men­tioned tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­nies as well as oth­ers like Apple — 56% are in agree­ment and 16% are opposed, and 27% not sure. That’s about the same as our sam­ple as a whole, with both sup­port and oppo­si­tion just slight­ly softer.

We found sim­i­lar per­cent­ages for free­lancers and sole proprietors.

Among those vot­ers who work for, or own, a small busi­ness (exclud­ing free­lancers and sole pro­pri­etors, who were in their own cat­e­go­ry), agree­ment reached 60%, with 15% express­ing dis­agree­ment. 26% said they were not sure.

Among those vot­ers in Wash­ing­ton who iden­ti­fy as a mem­ber of a labor union or have a fam­i­ly mem­ber who is in a union, agree­ment reached 65%, with only 11% express­ing dis­agree­ment and 22% say­ing they were not sure.

Region­al­ly, majori­ties in every area west of the Cas­cades are in agree­ment, led by King Coun­ty and the Olympic Penin­su­la / South­west Wash­ing­ton, but a plu­ral­i­ty in East­ern and Cen­tral Wash­ing­ton are also in agree­ment. (More vot­ers east of the Cas­cades say they are not sure — 34%, com­pared to 27% in the whole sample).

The State of Cal­i­for­nia is also con­sid­er­ing leg­is­la­tion to help pub­lish­ers: the Cal­i­for­nia Jour­nal­ism Preser­va­tion Act. Unlike Wash­ing­ton, Ore­gon, and Ida­ho, Cal­i­for­nia has a year-round leg­is­la­ture that does­n’t take extreme­ly long breaks in between con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly-lim­it­ed win­ter and spring­time sessions.

Our friends at the Elec­tron­ic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion (EFF) — which is not a front for any big tech com­pa­nies and is known for its inci­sive analy­sis of fed­er­al leg­is­la­tion con­cern­ing tech­nol­o­gy mat­ters — have crit­i­cized past incar­na­tions of the Jour­nal­ism Com­pe­ti­tion and Preser­va­tion Act, call­ing the bill “active­ly dangerous.”

“The way the JCPA is sup­posed to work is by giv­ing an antitrust exemp­tion to news sites, allow­ing them to nego­ti­ate as a bloc with sites like Google and Face­book, with the goal of get­ting paid every time those sites link to news arti­cles,” Katharine Tren­da­cos­ta and Mitch Stoltz wrote in a memo last year.

“There are a few major, fun­da­men­tal prob­lems with that premise.”

“For one, cre­at­ing a new car­tel to deal with exist­ing monop­o­lists is not com­pe­ti­tion, it’s the oppo­site. For anoth­er, cre­at­ing an implic­it right to con­trol link­ing in any con­text won’t pre­serve jour­nal­ism, it will let it rot away.”

“Final­ly, the focus on get­ting paid for links makes even less sense when the prob­lem, his­tor­i­cal­ly, has been the dom­i­na­tion of the dig­i­tal ad mar­ket by a few huge play­ers. The Com­pe­ti­tion and Trans­paren­cy in Dig­i­tal Adver­tis­ing Act actu­al­ly tar­gets that spe­cif­ic prob­lem much more effec­tive­ly than the JCPA.”

(For fur­ther analy­sis detail­ing prob­lems with the JCPA, see this let­ter, signed by the ACLU, EFF, Pub­lic Knowl­edge, Inter­net Archive, and oth­er groups.)

The Com­pe­ti­tion and Trans­paren­cy in Dig­i­tal Adver­tis­ing Act died when the last Con­gress dis­solved. How­ev­er, it has been revamped and rein­tro­duced as the Adver­tis­ing Mid­dle­men Endan­ger­ing Rig­or­ous Inter­net Com­pe­ti­tion Account­abil­i­ty (AMERICA) Act. It hap­pens to be prime spon­sored by a fierce oppo­nent of the JCPA: Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Mike Lee of Utah. Inter­est­ing­ly, one of its cospon­sors is Amy Klobuchar, show­ing that she is open to oth­er approach­es besides her own.

Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tor Eliz­a­beth War­ren — one of the lead­ing pro­gres­sive voic­es in the Unit­ed States Sen­ate — is also a cospon­sor of the AMERICA Act, along with extreme­ly right wing Repub­li­cans like Ted Cruz and Josh Haw­ley. It just goes to show that on many issues, there are areas of bipar­ti­san agreement.

Giv­en Repub­li­can con­trol of the House, the AMERICA Act prob­a­bly stands a bet­ter chance of becom­ing law this ses­sion than the JCPA, since it is sup­port­ed by right wing groups that have more clout with the Repub­li­can major­i­ty there, along with pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions like Pub­lic Knowl­edge that also oppose the JCPA.

Pas­sage of the AMERICA Act or anoth­er bill that responds to the rigged land­scape that pub­lish­ers con­tin­ue to face in this Con­gress would be an impor­tant break­through for the free press in Amer­i­ca — one we sore­ly need.

The bot­tom line from our research is that vot­ers in Wash­ing­ton are in agree­ment that big tech com­pa­nies ought to be finan­cial­ly sup­port­ing the jour­nal­ism that ben­e­fits their plat­forms. We urge our con­gres­sion­al del­e­ga­tion, espe­cial­ly Sen­a­tors Maria Cantwell and Pat­ty Mur­ray (who aren’t cospon­sors of either of the afore­men­tioned bills) to take note of this find­ing and work with their col­leagues in Con­gress to pass leg­is­la­tion to help the free press sur­vive and thrive.

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2 Comments

  1. Why did you poll on the JCPA and not the AMERICA Act?

    # by Emmett O'Connell :: June 25th, 2023 at 6:18 AM
    • We ask about a lot of issues in our statewide sur­veys and only had space for one ques­tion about this top­ic. The JCPA has received more atten­tion, so it made sense to refer to that as opposed to using the AMERICA Act as our exam­ple. The AMERICA Act is also unfor­tu­nate­ly named: “AMERICA” is an extreme­ly gener­ic acronym and it’s a mouth­ful when spelled out (“Adver­tis­ing Mid­dle­men Endan­ger­ing Rig­or­ous Inter­net Com­pe­ti­tion Account­abil­i­ty”), which would have made an already long ques­tion even longer. 

      # by Andrew Villeneuve :: June 25th, 2023 at 11:31 AM
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