An antitrust lawsuit filed against Google in February by the US Department of Justice and attorneys-general in eight states does not mention either copyright or the news profession. Content creators and the media, though, have reason to see the case as an important new front in a two-decade-long battle with digital platforms.
Competition in the marketplace, of course, is the principal concern DOJ has in antitrust matters. When a monopoly controls a particular market, it can bar entry to competitors and set artificially high prices. The latest DOJ case against Google alleges that the search engine titan does exactly that in the $250 billion US digital advertising space.
Industry analyst Paul Sweeting has written that the government’s decision to make an antitrust example of Google may release the tech company’s tight grip on ad spend and give publishers, especially news publishers, a chance at online survival.
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“From the consumer’s point of view, the biggest impact is you have fewer viable news sources to choose from. That may seem a bizarre sort of statement to make when you’re talking about the World Wide Web, when you’re overwhelmed with content, but a good amount of that content is not being professionally produced. It’s being produced without the sort of fact-checking and multi-sourcing and verification and credibility that goes along with a professional publishing operation,” says Sweeting.
“The impact on consumers is both less credible information and more – I don’t want to say not credible, but perhaps dubious information available to you. You could argue, and the Justice Department does, that that’s a net loss to the society,” he tells me.