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Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

‘Journalism Usage Fee’ Bill Passes Senate Judiciary Committee

AB 886 has had a polarized reception since being introduced earlier this year

By Evan Symon, June 27, 2024 2:55 am

A bill that would have big tech companies pay a fee to news outlets for using or posting articles and other local news content passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday in a 9-2 vote split across party lines.

Assembly Bill 886, authored by Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland), would specifically have digital advertising companies, such as Google or Facebook, pay for content they use from media outlets. The bill, also known as the California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA), would pay a “journalism usage fee” to outlet owners each time local news articles are used by the companies that also sell advertising along with it. Publishers would receive the funds would then need to invest at least 70% back into funding journalism jobs, such as going toward paying journalists or creating new journalism positions.

Specifically, the bill would require, beginning by March 1, 2025, a covered platform to compile and post on its internet website a list of digital journalism providers that the platform accessed for a California audience during the preceding 12 months. The covered platform would be to provide the above-described list to any digital journalism provider upon request, as specified, and to establish a designated email address to which a request may be submitted.

AB 886 would then require a digital journalism provider to spend at least 70% of funds received pursuant to the act on news journalists and support staff employed by the digital journalism provider. An eligible digital journalism provider with 5 or fewer employees, would spend at least 50% of funds received pursuant to these provisions on news journalists and support staff employed by the digital journalism provider.

Assemblywoman Wicks wrote the bill over the significant decline of local newspaper outlets in California the past decade, largely attributed to a huge loss of print advertising, with only small gains made in online advertising. Classified ads alone in newspapers went from generating over $19 billion a year for newspapers in 2000 to $2.3 billion in 2019. Since 2020, newspaper advertising revenues have sunk a total of 66% more, with media outlet employees going down 44%. While online advertising has been going up more in recent years, it is projected to not make up for the loss of print advertising for the foreseeable future. The fee would help make up for lost revenue and would compensate media companies for content they generated but did not receive advertising revenue for because it was on a different platform such as Google or Facebook.

While many media organizations such as the California News Publishers Association (CNPA) and the News/Media Alliance (NMA) quickly backed AB 886 as a way to help monetize digital news services and get around the digital-print ad gap, many other outlets and media organizations have remained concerned that different companies could unfairly favor different outlets by where they are placed or promoted. There is also concern that some outlets could be positioned to be seen first, and ultimately be given more of the fees, over others. Tech companies that would need to pay these proposed fees have also come out against the bill as well.

AB 886 moves up

The divisiveness of the bill has carried on through the different Senate and Assembly votes in Sacramento this year. Republicans and a handful of Democrats have either voted no on the bill or simply abstained from voting on it. Earlier this month, the bill passed the Assembly in a polarizing 55-19 vote with 6 abstentions. This moved the bill to Senate committee votes, where it passed the Judiciary Committee there in a split 9-2 vote.

Senator Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) said after the vote on Tuesday that “What’s on the line with a bill like this is democracy itself. When the patient is dying on the ground, you need a powerful blow to resuscitate it.”

While Wicks has said that more amendments to the bill are likely as she wants to craft a version that leaves both sides happy, opponents have continued to say that the bill likely will just upset more people, and will likely be declared unconstitutional as a result.

“Wicks has her heart in the right place in wanting to save journalist jobs, but she should have run this bill past people who, you know, know what they are doing,” explained online advertising consultant Darren Adams to the Globe on Wednesday. “There is severe favoritism of outlets here, platforms just deciding to drop news, and let’s be frank, most outlets today are held by hedge funds, large companies, or something else like that. Over 50%. Money would just be going to them. Rich tech companies could, in some instances, be paying themselves almost.

“What Wicks needs to get is a list of all outlets covered under the parameters of the bill and show what the breakdown of payments would come out to as a percentage. That would help people make up their mind. Seeing what the money will be and where it goes. It is way too vague right now. Also, at least give a ballpark conservative figure of how many jobs would be added as a result. The bill can be more palatable if the bill adds a lot more Californian jobs.

“But also, you’re looking down the barrel of this being called unconstitutional. If I sound all over the map, it’s because this bill is.”

AB 886 is to go before the Senate Appropriations Committee this August.

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Evan Symon
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9 thoughts on “‘Journalism Usage Fee’ Bill Passes Senate Judiciary Committee

  1. I would like to see them keep cooperating and finding something that works.
    It all started with Microsoft giving away a free browser (Internet Explorer) wiping out those who had a pay version (Netscape). Then came Craig’s List, and there went the want ads.
    It is unique that the highest valued companies in the world grew by giving their competitors product away for free and supported the effort with the advertising they attached to it. In reality, they produced nothing and still got all the gold by turning everyone who uses a computer in a profitable target for advertising.

  2. AB 886 is not what it appears to be. In any case if it were to pass and become law as it reads on the surface it would be a corporate media windfall. Big corporations who benefit? Why would the Dem Marxist anti-capitalist pain-in-the-neck legislators like Asm Buffy Wicks want that? They wouldn’t.
    We need to wise up about what this bill is really all about and do what we can to prevent it from being passed. The actual, real-life result of a “twin” bill passed in Canada (also Australia) is that big tech chose to REMOVE access to news INSTEAD of paying content providers. Same results in Australia (and elsewhere). I can confirm that this has indeed happened because someone I follow who lives in Canada has been cut off from most news because of legislation just like CA’s AB 886. We DO NOT want that:
    “Meta Begins Removing Canadians Access to All News on Facebook and Instagram”
    “Today we’ve begun the process of ending news availability in Canada. Changes will roll out over a few weeks,” Stone said. “As we’ve always said, the law is based on a fundamentally flawed premise. And, regrettably, the only way we can reasonably comply is to end news availability in Canada.”
    Please let your state representatives know you are against this bill and urge them to Vote No on it if or when it comes before them. Will the author (Asm Buffy Wicks) and her backers try to speedily sneak this through somehow? Kinda seems like the kind of bill where they might try that when we are not paying attention.

  3. Creepy Democrat Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks previously authored bills in support of infanticide is now pushing Assembly Bill AB 886. Now why would she and other Democrat lawmakers want to prop up newspapers and other legacy media outlets? Other than the fact that those legacy media outlets are mostly propaganda outlets for the Democrat party, perhaps she and other Democrats in the legislature are getting payoffs from Democrat propaganda outlets like the LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee, etc. along with media organizations such as the California News Publishers Association (CNPA) and the News/Media Alliance (NMA)?

  4. This bill will have the opposite effect of what it intends to achieve. Tech companies will just stop posting any third party news content as they have already done in Canada and Australia which leads to even lower view ship for the journalists and even less income. So yeah, go ahead and pass this and finish off the legacy news media once and for all. It might actually be the best for us all.

  5. Maybe if the newspapers had maintained their journalistic integrity, instead of shilling for the progressive agendas, their advertising revenues and subscription rolls would have maintained their early 2000’s revenue & circulation metrics…
    But no, instead they went “woke” and they’ve almost gone broke, and now “Dead Eyes” Wicks wants to ride to their rescue with (yet another) astroturfing campaign to create a transfer funding scheme (which we know will be skimmed by the Democrats, as they somehow always manage to get their grubby mitts on their funding schemes)

  6. Once again we see idiot libtarded politicians interfering with “free enterprise” business to “help” their rich political donors by taking control over the “new” media to the benefit of “old” media that nobody wants or trusts!

  7. All good comments here. If this was a great idea, then it would be bipartisan, but it’s not.

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