- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Google and Facebook are facing a federal antitrust lawsuit filed on behalf of a West Virginia newspaper publisher who alleges the companies have illegally monopolized the digital advertising market.

Lawyers for HD Media, which owns and operates several newspapers in the state, filed the suit Friday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia. They requested a jury trial.

Rife with references to the findings reached last fall by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, the civil action brought against Google and Facebook accuses each of the internet giants of directly contributing to the decline of local journalism by allegedly monopolizing the digital ad market in violation of the U.S. Sherman Act.

“Since 2006, the news industry has been in economic freefall, primarily due to a massive decrease in advertising revenue caused by Defendants’ anticompetitive and unlawful conduct,” lawyers for HD Media wrote in the 42-page complaint they filed in federal court.

The complaint alleges Google monopolized the digital ad market during the last decade and a half, “to such extent that it threatens the extinction of local newspapers across the country.” It also accuses the company of unlawfully conspiring with Facebook to “further their worldwide dominance” of the market, citing an alleged pact between the two, called “Jedi Blue,” revealed in a lawsuit filed late last year by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

“There is no longer a competitive market in which newspapers can fairly compete for online advertising revenue,” HD Media‘s lawyers alleged in the lawsuit.

“The freedom of the press is not at stake; the press itself is at stake,” lawyers Paul T. Farrell Jr., Paul J. Geller and Clayton J. Fitzsimmons wrote for HD Media.

Reached for comment about the HD Media lawsuit, Google pointed to a blog post the company’s director of economic policy wrote last month strongly rejecting similar claims raised by Mr. Paxton.

“Our ad tech rivals and large partners may not always like every decision we make—we’re never going to be able to please everybody. But that’s hardly evidence of wrongdoing and certainly not a credible basis for an antitrust lawsuit,” Adam Cohen wrote for Google last month.

Facebook did not immediately respond to request for comment.

The subcommittee report, released in October, found that Google has a monopoly in the markets for online search and search advertising, while Facebook has monopoly power in the social networking market.

In addition to a trial by jury, HD Media is seeking unspecified damages and a ruling in its favor declaring Google and Facebook in violation of federal law and ordering them to reverse course.

HD Media publishes newspapers including the Charleston Gazette-Mail, The Wayne County News and The Putnam Herald, among others.

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