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Information publishers, together with Seattle group, sue Google and Fb over market dominance

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Facebook’s Arbor Blocks office in Seattle. (GeekWire File Photo / Nat Levy)

A group of 30 newspaper publishers, including Seattle-based Robinson Newspapers, have sued Google and Facebook over the way the social and search giants profit from news content at the expense of the publications that produce it.

The lawsuits, outlined in a story by Axios, involve more than 200 individual publications and are based on a central antitrust premise: that the two tech companies are so pervasive in online advertising that they illegally siphon up revenue that would otherwise go to local news. 

The litigation’s goal, according to the Axios report, is “to recover past damages to newspapers” caused by Big Tech companies, according to a lawyer representing the newspapers.

Robinson newspapers include Ballard News-Tribune, Des Moines News, Highline Times, White Center News and the West Seattle Herald. Representatives with the Robinson could not immediate be reached for comment.

Filed in September, the Robinson lawsuit blames the two tech companies for a sharp decline is revenue. “Defendants’ anticompetitive and monopolistic practices have had a profound effect upon our country’s free and diverse press, particularly the newspaper industry,” the lawsuit states.

“Since 2006, newspaper advertising revenue, which is critical for funding high-quality journalism, fell by over 50%.”

The multiple lawsuits were consolidated in New York and remain pending.

A Google spokesperson said lawsuits’ assertions don’t reflect reality.

“These claims are just wrong” the spokesperson said. “The online advertising space is crowded and competitive, our ad tech fees are lower than reported industry averages, and publishers keep the vast majority of revenue earned when using our products.

“We are one of the world’s leading financial supporters of journalism and have provided billions of dollars to support quality journalism in the digital age.”

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The litigation is partly based on a 2020 congressional committee investigation and report on Big Tech and antitrust. Lina Khan, the current head of the Federal Trade Commission, was a lead counsel to the investigative committee and helped assemble the 450-page report. As head of the FTC, the former Columbia Law school professor and researcher has made antitrust disputes a primary focus.

The report outlined how dominant the two companies are when it comes to online advertising linked to news stories.

“Google and Facebook are the gateways to online news media for many consumers,” the report stated. “As a result, news publishers are reliant on these platforms for reaching people online, which affects publishers’ ability to monetize journalism, particularly on formats such as Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages.”

The Robinson Communications lawsuit (see below) specifically cites the congressional report as basis for the litigation: “If proven to be true, and as alleged herein, Google and Facebook have monopolized the digital advertising market thereby strangling a primary source of revenue for newspapers across the country.”

Here’s a list of the publications that have joined in the litigation.

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