Newspaper Holding Company Sues Google and Facebook for Antitrust Conspiracy

According to a Western District of Washington complaint filed on Monday, Robinson Communications Inc. is taking two tech giants for conduct it argues crippled the country’s newspaper industry. The filing both accuses Google LLC of exercising monopoly power of the digital advertising market and both Google and Facebook Inc. of unlawfully conspiring to engage in anticompetitive conduct per the so-called “Jedi Blue” agreement, constituting an automatic violation of the Sherman Act.

The complaint follows the recent consolidation of similar cases leveled by advertisers, publishers, and state attorneys general. In that multi-district litigation, now proceeding in the Southern District of New York, news publishers likewise accused Google, but not Facebook, of monopolization and suppression of competition in the online display advertising market.

In this week’s filing, Robinson argues that since 2006, newspaper advertising revenue, a stream critical to funding high-quality journalism, has dropped by more than 50%. For the plaintiff specifically, it at one time employed more than 400 workers and had a circulation of well over 100,000, printing three editions each week. As a result of the defendants’ illegal conduct, however, Robinson was forced to cease all print editions of its newspapers in April 2021.

The plaintiff asserts that Google’s conduct, like positioning itself as a “monopolistic intermediary between newspapers and their online readers” and undermining vertical search providers, was the direct cause of its decline. Furthermore, it alleges that the defendants, also arch-rivals in the digital advertising market, conspired to further entrench their global dominance through a secret agreement codenamed “Jedi Blue” in September 2018. 

The parties reportedly agreed that Facebook would largely forego its planned debut into “header bidding,” an innovation that increased competition by “rout[ing] ad inventory to multiple neutral exchanges each time a user visited a web page in order to return the highest bid for the inventory.” Google reportedly saw header bidding as a threat to its exchange’s ability to command a substantial cut on all advertising transactions. In exchange for Facebook’s abstinence, Google agreed to give Facebook preferential treatment in its auctions, the complaint says.

The filing states two claims for relief, both under the Sherman Act. Robinson requests declaratory and injunctive relief, damages, including treble damages, and an award of its attorneys’ fees and costs. The plaintiff is represented by Herman Jones LLP, Farrell & Fuller LLC, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, and Fitzsimmons Law Firm PLLC.