GAO Report Reveals Extensive JCPA Concerns

In February 2022, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) convened a two-day workshop with participants from a variety of backgrounds, including “academics, legal scholars, independent and affiliated journalists, publishers, and representatives of non-governmental organizations and technology companies.” The GAO’s goal: compile insights about journalism and news consumption amidst an ongoing digital transformation.

One year later, following supplemental interviews and a literature review, the GAO released its expansive report. Among the initial findings within the 93-page report, one quite prominent acknowledgment stands out in the first paragraph:

“Consumers increasingly prefer to access news in digital rather than print formats, and the internet has given consumers access to many more sources of news and information, often for free.”

This conclusion affirms that the open internet has been and continues to be a boon for access to information.

Importantly, the GAO acknowledges that local publications face real challenges, but raises concerns that legislative proposals like the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA) “could result in unintended consequences for smaller publishers and consumers.”

The JCPA and other its state-specific versions in California would force prominent online platforms (which the GAO emphasizes have substantially supported local news) to both carry and pay for links and snippets of content from outlets. The GAO report does not rubber stamp this legislation, instead it listed extensive concerns with the misguided solution.

Experts told the GAO that JCPA “would essentially create a national news cartel and harm consumers and deter innovation in news.” Furthermore, the GAO also points out the JCPA actually empowers big media at the expense of small publishers: “[A]llowing news publishers to collectively bargain with internet platforms may result in large publishers dominating the negotiations and leaving out small local publishers.”

Why are these findings notable? It demonstrates that the GAO doesn’t give credence to the media industry’s lobbyists at the News Media Alliance. Big Media’s arguments were considered and then promptly rejected.

Other copyright-related ideas from rightsholders were also taken into account by the GAO, though none were supported. The GAO cited a report from the U.S. Copyright Office that concluded news publishers already have “significant protections” under existing copyright law and explicitly recommended against “adopting additional copyright-like rights for press publishers.” Similarly, after reviewing international ancillary copyright proposals, the GAO pointed to stakeholder concerns that these proposals have “unintended consequences” for both consumers and small publishers.

Once again, the GAO reviewed copyright maximalists’ arguments and dismissed them over concerns for what benefits all of society.

These findings are timely, as they come at a point when those same well-funded special interests are continuing to stir up stale ideas. The JCPA has been re-introduced in the U.S. Senate, with a state version introduced in California. Publishing lobbyists are desperate to move this bill forward, despite Congressional and GAO rejections.

As acknowledged by the GAO report, the open internet has been a boon for news consumers. While local media does face challenges, it’s also clear that misguided policies like the JCPA that could fundamentally change how information is accessed online would erode consumer benefits while simultaneously lining media conglomerates’ pockets. To keep the public informed and bolster quality journalism, it’s time to stop reviving abandoned ideas and instead look to policies that, as the GAO asserted, are “innovation-friendly, forward-looking, and inclusive.”