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Meta threatens to pull all news from California rather than pay El Reg a penny

And, ahem, other publishers

Here we go again: Meta has threatened to block journalism content for California users after the US state's legislature read a bill that would require it, and other large internet organizations, to pay publishers for using their work. 

The proposed California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA), like similar bills before it, would require online platforms with at least 50 million monthly active users to pay a percentage of the ad revenue generated from stories being posted and shared to the publishers that created the articles.

Those online platforms would include Meta, which runs Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, and boasts of three billion daily active users.

Under this draft law, at least 70 percent of this advertising sales cut to eligible publishers must to be spent on paying journalists and support staff. From our reading of the fine print, El Reg, with offices and vultures in San Francisco, London, and elsewhere, appears eligible as a publisher.

The bill, which was read and amended this week and is still working its way through California's legislature, also prohibits retaliation against media outfits that request this fee.

In a move that won't shock anyone aware of Meta's reaction to similar proposals, such as in Australia, Canada and a nationwide proposal for the US, Zuckercorp isn't happy with California's version of the JPA.

"If [the act] passes, we will be forced to remove news from Facebook and Instagram rather than pay into a slush fund that primarily benefits big, out-of-state media companies under the guise of aiding California publishers," Meta spokesperson Andy Stone thundered.

Californian lawmakers hope their efforts here will help stave off a serious contraction in the state's news industry, which has lost more than 100 titles in the past decade, according to CA Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, a Democrat in Oakland who introduced the CJPA.

Stone meanwhile argued media industry shrinkage is not Meta's fault, and besides that, news organizations put their content on Facebook and Instagram willingly, he said. Ergo, they freely handed over their work for Meta to exploit. The tech giant banked a mere $23 billion profit last year.

"It is disappointing that California lawmakers appear to be prioritizing the best interests of national and international media over their own constituents," Stone added. 

If you can't beat a country, battle a state

Meta, which is headquartered in Cali's Menlo Park, has tried to pull this card before. Its arguments here against ad revenue sharing in Cali are similar to its objections to the Australian, Canadian, and US federal variants of the proposed law. 

Canada's version of the law is working its way through the legislative process, while the US federal legislation was referred to committee in November, where it has since sat and moldered. 

Meta went one step further in its fight against Australia's proposal - the first to be suggested - and stopped serving news links to Australian users for a few days before relenting and even agreeing to pay Australian publishers for republishing their news. 

In other words, this fight hasn't gone that well for CEO Mark Zuckerberg and friends thus far.

It's not clear whether the proposals in Canada, the US, and California will pass. If they do, we believe it's unlikely Meta will prevail in its bluff to ban news content from its platforms in those locales. Precedent was set Down Under, where all Zuck managed to accomplish with his Australian news strike was some bargaining concessions. 

Meta couldn't face losing that bit of reach in a country with an economy only slightly more valuable than California's, where it's now threatening the same news blockade.

Whether Commodore Zuckerberg can extend that embargo to the whole of the US and Canada is quite a big bet to take. We contacted Meta to get some insight into its strategy, and haven't heard back. ®

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