Google, Facebook in crosshairs in new 125 US newspapers' lawsuits

Filed on April 20, 2021 | Last updated on April 20, 2021 at 11.16 pm

The technological giants have been accused of unlawfully monopolising the digital advertising market

Publishers of 125 newspapers in 11 states in the US filed or announced lawsuits against Google and Facebook on Monday, US media has reported.

The technological giants have been accused of unlawfully monopolising the digital advertising market and found to be engaged in an illegal secretive deal, which goes by the alias “Jedi Blue” in a bid to thwart competition.

At last count, 14 complaints were filed or announced by publishers from Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Mississippi, New Jersey, Indiana, Missouri, Maryland, and Delaware in the US. The claims come on the back of a January 2021 antitrust suit against Google and Facebook filed by HD Media, a West Virginia-based newspaper company that publishes the Pulitzer Prize-winning Charleston Gazette-Mail and (Huntington) Herald-Dispatch.

Among those filing the lawsuits on Monday are AIM Media, led by the chief executive officer (CEO) Jeremy Halbreich, a seasoned newspaper executive who previously served as board chairman and CEO of Sun-Times Media, publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times along with seven other daily newspapers and 40 weekly newspapers in the Chicago region; founder and chairman of American Consolidated Media, publisher of 110 daily and weekly newspapers in 10 states; and ex-president and general manager of the Dallas Morning News. AIM Media Texas, AIM Media Midwest, and AIM Media Indiana are among the plaintiffs in Monday’s filings who collectively publish approximately 50 newspapers in four states.

“As found by recent investigations conducted by both federal and state agencies, Google and Facebook have monopolised the digital advertising market and restricted the monetization of local news by local news organizations,” Halbreich said. “This has had a dramatic impact on the revenues and resources available for local news organisations. These monopolistic practices must come to an end. It is no longer appropriate for these two platforms to profit directly from local news while publishers increasingly struggle.”

In October 2020, the US House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law issued a 470-page report detailing Google’s and Facebook’s conduct in the digital advertising market and the profound effects it has had upon America’s free and diverse press, particularly the newspaper industry. The Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice, and numerous state attorneys general also have filed antitrust claims against Google or Facebook or both.

Newspapers have been acutely impacted by the turn of events.

Advertising revenue plunged from $49 billion in 2006 to $16.5 billion in 2017, threatening the existence of local news, according to the complaints much ahead of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The freedom of the press is not at stake,” the complaints state, “the press itself is at stake.”

Nearly 30,000 newspaper jobs disappeared — a 60 per cent industrywide decline —from 1990 to 2016, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics. Around 20 per cent of all newspapers have closed in the past 15 years, according to a recent report by the University of North Carolina.

“Newspapers are essential to the functioning of our democracy and there is no replacement for a well-informed citizenry,” said Paul Farrell Jr., an attorney for the newspaper publishers. “This is a fight worth fighting.”

Other publishers who filed suits are Brown County Publishing Company, Inc. and Multi Media Channels, LLC; Clarksburg Publishing Company, d.b.a. WV News; Coastal Point LLC; Eagle Printing Company; Ecent Corporation; Emmerich Newspapers, Inc.; Flag Publications, Inc.; Gale Force Media, LLC; and Journal Inc. In addition, WKTimes LLC, and Pinnacle Communications, publisher of Northeast News, have announced their intention to file similar suits in the near future.

The newspaper publishers are represented by a national coalition of attorneys: Paul Farrell Jr. and Mike Fuller of Farrell & Fuller, LLC; Paul Geller, Stuart Davidson, David Mitchell and Steve Jodlowski of Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP; Clayton Fitzsimmons, Bob Fitzsimmons, and Mark Colantonio of Fitzsimmons Law Firm PLLC; and John Herman and Serina Vash of Herman Jones LLP.

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