ALBANY — A Capital Region publisher has joined the long list of newspapers suing Google and Facebook, saying the tech giants are hogging digital advertising revenue with their monopolistic and anti-competitive practices.
Lawyers for Capital Region Independent Media LLC filed in federal court in Albany on Tuesday documents nearly identical to lawsuits they filed on behalf of more than 200 other newspapers in 22 states.
The complaints point out that “freedom of the press is not at stake; it’s the press itself that’s at stake,” as the two digital giants have plotted to grab most of the digital advertising revenue the press needs to survive.
Capital Region Independent Media owner Mark Vinceguerra said Friday that Facebook and Google are unfairly exploiting newspapers like his:
Digital giants need new local content; then they take the titles and summaries of the newspapers; without paying the newspapers for it; without incurring any of the costs of its production; without bearing any responsibility for its accuracy; and while keeping ad revenue for themselves.
“The biggest thing, basically, is that they took what we produce and they used it to grow their audience,” Vinceguerra said.
The lawsuit begins by citing Thomas Jefferson’s comments circa 1787 on the importance of newspapers and quickly moves on to antitrust investigations circa 2020 against Google and Facebook.
At the heart of the case is a secret 2018 deal codenamed Jedi Blue between the two companies, who had been rivals for digital advertising money but struck a quid pro quo deal to stop each other. compete.
It was an unlawful conspiracy to manipulate the market, according to the lawsuit.
The supporting details of the lawsuit indicate that the diaries’ issues predate Jedi Blue.
Newspaper circulation in 2018 had already fallen to the lowest level since comparable data was first collected in 1940; newspaper advertising revenue increased from $49 billion in 2006 to $16.5 billion in 2017; and newspaper staff fell by 50% between 2008 and 2019.
Google and Facebook, the dominant forces in their respective industries, continue to push, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit seeks restitution and treble damages with interest, court costs and any other relief deemed appropriate after a jury trial for the two companies’ alleged monopolization of the digital advertising market by the two companies, conspiracy to restrain trade and enrichment unjust of themselves,
The alternative is “the decimation of local news sources, resulting in information deserts and a profoundly negative effect on American democracy and civic life,” the lawsuit argues.
Vinceguera’s company publishes newspapers from Greenville to Granville and runs online news sites. These newspapers long predate the Internet, and the telephone in some cases, and even the telegraph — the Whitehall Times dates back to 1815.
But he also has a website and a Facebook page.
“Ink on paper is how people know us,” said Vinceguerra, owner of the newspaper group since 2018. “But we are very diverse in how we tell stories.”
Most small newspapers are suffering to some degree from the status quo maintained by Google and Facebook, said Diane Kennedy, president of the New York News Publishers Association.
“It really depends a lot on the news agency,” she said. “Large organizations were able to negotiate payments in exchange for news content.”
The problem is that many people only read the headline and the first few sentences of an online news article, which represents hours of work for a press team supported by expensive infrastructure. Google makes money linking to that headline and that first sentence, even though the rest of the story is hidden behind a paywall on the newspaper’s website.
“Copyright law hasn’t kept up with technology,” Kennedy said.
There is hope for relief, she said, in the proposed Journalism Competition and Prevention Act, federal legislation that would waive antitrust rules and allow newspapers to band together to negotiate fees. use of their content. Small and medium-sized businesses would benefit the most, she added.
A similar measure has shown significant benefits for newspapers in Australia, Kennedy said, and variations are being studied in other countries.
However, he doesn’t appear to be on a fast track in the United States, despite bipartisan sponsorship.
Another federal proposal — the U.S. Online Choice and Innovation Act — would prevent big online platforms from privileging their own products or limiting competitors, and it’s more narrowly focused on ad revenue, Kennedy added.
John DeAugustine, president and publisher of The Daily Gazette, said The Gazette was not among the newspapers suing the tech giants, but did not rule out the possibility.
“Our position on this is that Google and Facebook provide a vital service to deliver our content to people who don’t come directly to our site,” he said. “Now I fully understand that they are taking ad dollars that could otherwise be put into our products and the impact of that has been very detrimental over time. I don’t think the downside of the ad dollars that they have taken more than the advantage of putting our content in the hands of people.
The paper’s tilt could change as the situation evolves, he said on Thursday, the same day Facebook announced it was canceling the partnership program through which it pays news outlets to have their content appear. in the Facebook News tab.
“So it’s an evolving thing that needs to be watched very closely,” DeAugustine said.
Passing the US Online Innovation and Choice Act would help, he added. “It’s not a drop in the bucket for a newspaper our size,” he said.
Newspaper lawsuits against tech giants began in West Virginia and quickly spread. The Fitzsimmons law firm in Wheeling now represents 40 ownership groups publishing 225 newspapers in 22 states.
Clayton Fitzsimmons said Friday there are now four categories of plaintiffs suing Google and Facebook for their online business practices: state attorneys general; advertisers pursuing class action status; newspapers seeking class action status; and newspaper publishers acting individually, such as Capital Region Independent Media.
Most of the cases were consolidated as multidistrict litigation in federal court in Manhattan, so the same pretrial process of depositions and discovery need not be repeated hundreds of times. He expects Vinceguerra’s trial to be moved to the same group.
What’s at stake is not just money, but the survival of the news industry and the continuation of what it does for democracy, Fitzsimmons said, and “it’s a fight absolutely worth worth leading”.
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