Why is it okay for rich men to steal my work?

(Britta Pedersen/Associated Press)

Why is it okay for rich men to steal my work?

California politics, homepage news

Anita Chabria

February 8, 2024

Every day, what’s left of this country’s once-mighty ranks of reporters churn out stories designed to inform, entertain and expose.

Sometimes it takes minutes, the first pieces of knowledge about the latest news, such as fires, storms or even elections. Sometimes these are investigations that have taken years.

Inevitably, as soon as we publish, rich guys with algorithms will come in and swipe this work away for their own gain, like deodorant off the Target shelf. Each. Single. Story.

Retail theft is causing a breakdown in society and inspiring a ballot measure to lock up repeat toothpaste thieves.

But billionaire tech bros dismantling democracy for profit, stealing thousands of times a minute by selling ads for something they don’t own? This is hardly frowned upon, even as more and more media professionals are being fired, more and more publications are being closed and reliable information is becoming so scarce and difficult to discover that the truth itself has become political.

“It’s sad on many levels,” Senator Tom Umberg (D-Garden Grove) told me when I asked him what he thought about the recent media layoffs, including the loss of more than 100 of my colleagues at this newspaper, and cuts to other publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Time, Cond Nast and the Messenger.

In total, almost 600 jobs in the news sector were cut in January.

“It’s also sad at the democratic level,” Umberg said.

Umberg and state Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) are trying to do what others have already done: stop the stealing with a bill that has not surprisingly led to more than $1 million in lobbying by Big Tech to end it. That spending was discovered by Queenie Wong, a reporter at this newspaper who was unfortunately part of the layoffs, and it forced Wicks and Umberg to suspend the measure last year.

They are determined to revive it this year, but that will depend on how buying savvy their peers are. Because of course there will be more money put into killing it, and more pressure from Big Tech to keep the whole mess out of the public eye. That pressure will extend from the Assembly floor to the governor’s office.

However, if California does not pass Assembly Bill 886, it will mean that our elected leaders are cowards or craven money grabbers who are content to watch our democracy crumble in exchange for campaign contributions. Honestly, it’s so simple and so terrible.

“For me it’s a matter of fundamental honesty,” Wicks told me

The understanding of

internet platforms pay part of their profits to news publishers. “I think it will be hard for them to say they can’t do it here when they can do it in other places.”

She’s referring to Australia and Canada, which are fed up with Big Tech simultaneously raking in advertising dollars on news content, while claiming that only a few people actually search for news on their platforms.

Both countries have passed laws, albeit flawed ones, that have been heavily softened by lobbying, requiring Google and Meta (the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and others) to negotiate payments with news publishers.

A bill for a similar law here in the US, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act of 2022, is going nowhere in the Republican-dominated Congress, where a far-right contingent that came to power on the basis of propaganda and lies has little interest in rei


that in it.

Which requires California to take the lead in something the state is well positioned to do with its economic power, powerful enough to even challenge


Musk and Zuckerbergs of the world.

“The lesson to be learned from Canadian law is that [internet platforms] will pay,” Haaris Mateen told me. “And so Californians have every right to ask for payments to journalism companies.”

Mateen is an assistant professor of finance at the University of Houston and has studied this issue. In November, he and his colleagues published a paper estimating that internet platforms would owe US ​​publishers between $11.9 billion and $13.9 billion a year if Congress were to pass the Journalism Preservation Act.

Using the same methodology, he estimates that Google would owe California news publishers $1.4 billion annually, and Facebook $265 million annually. In 2023, Facebook’s revenue was $135 billion, and Alphabet, Google’s parent company, had $307 billion in revenue. So we are not talking about the bankruptcy of these companies.

“I want Google to be economically successful. I want them to be one of the richest companies in the world,” Wicks said. “I also want them to do the right thing.”

Mateen and his colleagues also found that internet platforms and news publishers offer ‘free services’, allowing them to…


helping each other make more money together than each would make individually if internet companies weren’t just stealing their share of the bill.

Internet companies have long argued that news has little value to them and their users, and therefore there is nothing to pay for. A former Internet executive recently claimed so


“stupid complaint” to protest the use of news without compensation because posting stories brings traffic to news sites and “Everyone wants traffic!”

The traffic is great. But traffic without revenue is worthless. And the idea


people not searching for news online seems very suspicious (but the data is owned by the internet companies).

Those Google searches for “Ukraine?” Are they really people looking for red borscht recipes and not war updates?

Searching for ‘LA storm?’ Are users really not looking for information about current weather hazards, all from news outlets like NBC, the Associated Press, and yes, the Los Angeles Times?

“Can you imagine a version of Google without news in it?” Mateen wonders. “It would look like Amazon.”

But that is the main threat that internet platforms are using to block US and California legislation, which is that if those laws are passed, they will remove news from their sites. News publishers fear this because even the meager amount they currently make from their searchability is crucial to increasing profits.

In protest against the Canadian law, Meta blocked access to news on its sites for Canadians this summer.

Pascale St-Onge, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Member of Parliament, warned at the time that Facebook is trying to send a message not only to Canada, but also to other countries such as New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.”

But Mateen said Canada is a much smaller market than the U.S. or even California, and it would be difficult for the internet giants to enforce such a ban here.

“The California government has much more negotiating power on this issue,” he said.


Mateen also warns that the window for solving the problem is closing.

The urgency to act now “is enormous” because the coming age of AI is about to make the situation even worse and more complicated, he warns.

We are already seeing experiments in which companies use artificial intelligence to write news articles. The results weren’t exactly impressive, but there’s more to come.

Mateen said that once the technology improves, which it will soon, platforms will sweep up articles and feed them into AI applications that will mash them up like potatoes and spit out something that will mimic original content.

These stories of stolen pieces will be so altered and woven from multiple sources that it will be impossible to trace anything back to a single original article.

No responsibility, no trust and no one to pay.

Setting a precedent now that news has real value is imperative so that AI sucks it all up


it is reasonable for news companies to require that their content be licensed or otherwise compensated before it is crunched and made untrackable.

Media cannot stop Big Tech itself. It has tried, with subscriptions, one-off deals like the Google-New York Times deal and other desperate but futile attempts to find “new models” that can somehow fill the revenue gap without slowing down the internet platforms to do what they want. without consequences.

There is of course more than one problem facing the news industry. But like shoplifting, the news media needs a systemic solution: government intervention, because the thieves are too powerful, too organized and too brazen.

Whether that happens or not depends on what the public demands if we care as much about the theft of news as we do about deodorant.


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