4 News Publishers Sue Google and Facebook for Alleged Digital Advertising Monopoly

On Monday, four news publishers, including Clarksburg Publishing Company (doing business as WV News), Brown County Publishing Company and Multi Media Channels, Gale Force Media, and AIM Media Midwest Operating, sued Google and Face for antitrust violations, particularly for their purported monopoly of digital advertising, causing newspapers to struggle for digital advertising, which may cause a “news desert” from disappearing newspapers because of decreasing revenue.

The Brown County Publishing Company exemplary complaint, filed in the Eastern District of Wisconsin, noted that the House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law concluded an antitrust investigation into digital advertising that revealed that the defendants’ “anticompetitive and monopolistic practices have had a profound effect upon our country’s free and diverse press, particularly the newspaper industry.”

Reportedly, since 2006, “newspaper advertising revenue, which is critical for funding high-quality journalism, fell by over 50%.” Moreover, the complaint noted that, in 2006, newspaper advertising was at $49 billion, and, in 2017, it was at $16.5 billion. Brown County Publishing averred that the decline in revenue is a result of the defendants’ conduct. The plaintiff also noted the government’s respective lawsuits against Google and Facebook. Brown County Publishing proffered that Google and Facebook have monopolized the digital advertising market, thus affecting newspapers’ main revenue source.

Brown County Publishing, a Wisconsin news and publications company that owns and operates many newspapers and publications, such as The Press Times in Green Bay, Waupaca County Post, Wisconsin Rapids City Times, and New London Press Star, among many others, said these papers serve as “the major source of news for the Wisconsin citizens they serve and are a primary source of community news and commentary”; the plaintiff also digitally publishes the newspapers’ content. The plaintiff asserted that it sold or tried to sell digital advertisements on the newspapers’ respective domains “and competed with Google and Facebook in the relevant digital advertising markets.”

According to the complaint, the plaintiff and other newspapers “compete for revenue in the digital advertising market.” However, Brown County Publishing proffered that “Google monopolizes the market to such extent that it threatens the extinction of local newspapers across the country.” As a result, the plaintiff argued that “(t)here is no longer a competitive market in which newspapers can fairly compete for online advertising revenue” because Google has vertical integration into the market via its various mergers and acquisitions “to enable dominion over all sellers, buyers, and middlemen in the marketplace. It has absorbed the market internally and consumed most of the revenue.” Thus, this conduct has allegedly deprived the plaintiff and other newspapers of their main source of revenue.

Reportedly, via a secret agreement dubbed “Jedi Blue,” Google and Facebook teamed up to dominate the digital advertising market; allegedly, they “unlawfully conspired to manipulate online auctions which generate digital advertising revenue.” In particular, Google and Facebook purportedly “agreed to avoid competing with another in September 2018. … Facebook would largely forego its foray into header bidding and would instead bid through Google’s ad server. In exchange, Google agreed to give Facebook preferential treatment in its auctions.” This allegedly cemented their market dominance and harmed newspapers’ revenue.

Google and Facebook are accused of violating Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act, and the remaining cause of action is for unjust enrichment.

The plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment in its favor; an award for damages, costs, and fees; to permanently enjoin the defendants from further illegal conduct; pre- and post-judgment interest; and other relief.

Brown County Publishing is represented by Crueger Dickinson, Farrell & Fuller LLC, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, Fitzsimmons Law Firm PLLC, and Herman Jones LLP.

It is worth noting that all plaintiffs in the four lawsuits filed on Monday are represented by the following counsel: Farrell & Fuller LLC, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, Fitzsimmons Law Firm PLLC, and Herman Jones LLP; some have additional counsel.

This lawsuit is similar to a lawsuit brought against Google and Facebook in February also by the same four law firms.