Wednesday, 20 September 2006

Google, news and copyright: threat to search engines?

Reports abound of the recent Belgian court ruling, in an action brought by Copiepress (the copyright association representing certain Belgian newspapers), that Google News breached Belgian copyright and database law, in particular by its "activities" and the use of the Google cache. Google had to remove all content sourced from the Belgian French or German press from their site, and links to that content, or face a big daily fine. They wanted Google to get their permission (and of course pay a cut of Google's income from ads on its search pages) to index their content; they felt they were losing money because people weren't visiting their home pages which carried the highest paying ads (see e.g. the Euractive report).

Now Google indexes the full content but only for searching purposes, and it displays only headlines and a brief snippet from the news article in question. I'm with Google here - I personally believe what they do is fair use, and being indexed and searchable on Google brings many people to your site (and to your ads) who wouldn't otherwise go there at all. Sure, Google makes money from ads, but it's not running ads on the Google News pages (see this helpful analysis of how Google's ads and keywords and caching work, in this specific context). And rather than forcing visitors to go to their front page (what's to guarantee they'd click on ads on those pages anyway?), why don't newspapers and other sites run ads on deeper pages which are directly relevant to the content of the page concerned and so would generate more clicks?

I'm very glad Google is appealing the ruling (which apparently was made without Google being told about it, never mind being given a chance to put their own case to the judge). I think this sort of thing could strike at the very heart of the Internet. Search engines are Net users' bread and butter. They have to be able to index content so we can search for it, they have to be able to link to it (yes including deep linking) so we can find what we want. Don't sites want the traffic? Rather than complaining and suing, can't they instead try to make more money by adapting their advertising models to take account of how the Net has evolved, as Google itself has done so successfully - search engines, deep linking, the greater interest visitors have in content-related ads?

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