On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill known as the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, teeing it up for an eventual vote in the full Senate.
The bill, ostensibly designed to help news organizations negotiate fairer terms with online platforms that share their content, such as social media companies, passed on a 15-7 vote. It was introduced last year by a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both congressional chambers, including Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana, Democratic Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Republican Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado.
As written, the bill would effectively allow non-network news organizations with less than 1,500 full-time employees to evade antitrust law by letting them form a group with other news organizations to negotiate pricing and other terms for licensing their content.
In a statement Thursday, Klobuchar said: “Local news is facing an existential crisis, with ad revenues plummeting, newspapers closing, and many rural communities becoming ‘news deserts’ without access to local reporting.”
She added, “To preserve strong, independent journalism, we have to make sure news organizations are able to negotiate on a level playing field with the online platforms that have come to dominate news distribution and digital advertising.”
Passage of the bill out of the judiciary committee looked uncertain in recent weeks, mainly because of opposition from Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who tried to attach an amendment that would nullify the antitrust exemption if content moderation is mentioned by either social media companies or the negotiating group representing news organizations.
Republicans have falsely claimed content moderation policies unfairly target conservatives, even as the policies themselves only make reference to topics like hateful and abusive speech.
Nonetheless, Cruz and Klobuchar reportedly struck an agreement to pass the bill out of committee with language saying the negotiations are meant “solely to reach an agreement regarding the pricing, terms and conditions.” Cruz told The Washington Times that he agreed with Klobuchar that Big Tech benefits from an “unfair system” that allows the companies to run stories without compensating the content creators.
A number of tech industry groups and some activist organizations slammed the bill in a letter to lawmakers earlier this month, arguing that it could unfairly force platforms to carry some content, including material considered extreme. The coalition also claims that it’s wrong for platforms to have to pay for content that has been free for people to share on their sites.
It’s not yet clear when the bill will be brought up for a floor vote in the Senate. But if the legislation is signed into law, it’ll drastically alter the relationship between online content-creating organizations and the platforms they use to share their work.