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Newsom refuses to back fellow Dems taking on Google, Big Tech through news link legislation

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office is staying silent on a Democrat-led bill moving through the legislature that would create a “link tax” requiring big tech companies, like Google, to pay media companies for linking to their pages.

Last week, Google began removing news links to news pages while the legislation, dubbed the California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA), is under consideration. The bill, authored by Democrat Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, would effectively charge Google, Microsoft, Facebook and other big tech companies for linking to state news websites. The collected “link tax,” as Google calls it, would go toward supporting struggling newsrooms, according to the text.

While Newsom’s office declined to “comment on pending legislation” pioneered by his Democrat counterparts to Fox News Digital, the governor previously partnered with Google on initiatives during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, such as incorporating the state’s “earthquake early warning technology into all Android phones.” 

At the time, Newsom gushed over the partnership, saying, “It’s not every day that Silicon Valley looks to state government for state-of-the-art innovation, but that’s exactly what is happening today.”

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Gov. Gavin Newsom is remaining quiet regarding a new bill that would create a “link tax” requiring big tech companies to pay media companies for linking to their sites. (Screenshot/NBC)

Also in 2020, Newsom partnered with Google to give away 4,000 Chromebooks and free Wi-Fi hot spots for mobile users up to 90 days with unlimited broadband internet access to 100,000 households in rural regions of the state. In 2021, Newsom signed SB 7 into law, which changed real estate zoning laws to allow denser housing construction. Alongside him was Google’s president of global affairs, Kent Walker.

“To be here with Google and the incredible private sector investment and the faith and devotion to the future of this city and this region and this state is exactly where we want to be and it’s why we are here,” Newsom said to reporters at the time. 

However, Google said in a statement last week the proposed CJPA, in its current form, would “up-end” its model of helping publishing sites grow their audiences without financial penalties.

“As we’ve shared when other countries have considered similar proposals, the uncapped financial exposure created by CJPA would be unworkable,” Google said in a statement. “If enacted, CJPA in its current form would create a level of business uncertainty that no company could accept.”

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Google headquarters in Mountain View, California

The Media Research Center says that from 2008 through February 2024, “Google has utilized its power to help push to electoral victory the most liberal candidates, regardless of party, while targeting their opponents for censorship.” (Photographer: Marlena Sloss/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The big tech company said that to “prepare” for possible CJPA consequences, they have begun a soft roll-out of removing links to California news websites to test the impact it would have on the company’s “product experience.”

How much the companies would have to pay would be decided by a panel of three judges through an arbitration process under the bill.

The bill aims to stop the loss of journalism jobs, which have been disappearing rapidly as legacy media companies have struggled to profit in the digital age. More than 2,500 newspapers have closed in the U.S. since 2005, according to Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. California has lost more than 100 news organizations in the past decade, according to Wicks. 

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Big Tech company logos with the U.S. Capitol building in the background.

The Real Facebook Oversight Board embarked on the Facebook Receipts project to expose how big tech lobbyists used power and influence to kill would-be-landmark antitrust bills. (iStock)

“This is a bill about basic fairness — it’s about ensuring that platforms pay for the content they repurpose,” Wicks said. “We are committed to continuing negotiations with Google and all other stakeholders to secure a brighter future for California journalists and ensure that the lights of democracy stay on.”

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However, Google argues the bill “undermines news” in the Golden State.

“To avoid an outcome where all parties lose and the California news industry is left worse off, we urge lawmakers to take a different approach,” the company said. 

Big tech companies have also been targeted in recent years by state officials and Republican lawmakers, who claim the Biden administration’s alleged coordination with the search engine giants could unfairly impact the discourse around the 2024 election. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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