The Authors Guild submitted comments to the U.S. Copyright Office recommending changes to copyright law and policy to stop internet platforms like Facebook and Google from monetizing news content freely, and to give newspaper and magazine publishers more power to negotiate with platforms that aggregate news content. The comments come in response to the Copyright Office’s “Publisher Protection Study,” which seeks to understand the effects of “news aggregators” like Google and Facebook on newspapers and magazines with the goal of issuing policy guidelines to protect the industry.

The Guild’s comments emphasized that the Facebook and Google “duopoly” over the digital advertising market has siphoned revenues out of the press publishing ecosystem, leading to mass closure or consolidation in the industry. According to the Pew Center, 2,100—or about one in five—newspapers or magazines have shuttered or merged into larger entities since 2008, with advertising revenues sinking from $55 billion per year in 2005 to just $8.8 billion in 2010. The comments also underscored the impact on writers and journalists, pointing out that full-time journalism jobs had dwindled by 26% since 2008 and per-word and piece-based freelance rates were vastly lower than they were 15 years ago. 

The accumulated monopoly power of internet platforms vis-à-vis news publishers is the result of judicial decisions that paved the way for news aggregators to link to news content, use large segments of news clips, and entire high-quality images all without permission from the news content creators and without compensating them. Platforms have used their market dominance to wrest control over the content from news publishers in exchange for granting them access to basic services like search visibility, without which disseminating news would be impossible. 

Apart from the clear economic harm to journalists, freelance writers, and press publishers, control of the news space by internet platforms have also dealt serious blows to democratic culture. As the last four years show, when the public relies on misinformation and fake news instead of real journalism—which, unlike clickbait, takes hard work, time, and resources to produce—the cost to society are immense. 

We are grateful to the Copyright Office for undertaking this timely inquiry and remain hopeful that its recommendations will result in substantive legal and policy changes in favor of the news media industry. In addition to our engagement with the Copyright Office on these issues, the Authors Guild is also lobbying for the passage of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (S.673 and H.R.1735), which would allow news publishers to engage in collective bargaining with large internet platforms.

You can read our full comments below.

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