Old media fires warning shot across Google's bow, gets more than bargained for in return?

, posted: 8-Apr-2007 09:37

Are search engines and aggregators like Google stealing content? That's what Sam Zell, new owner of media giant Tribune Co contends, and he's not alone. Google settled a lawsuit last week with Agence France-Presse (AFP) over Google News using the latter's text and pictures without permission.

Although the terms of the settlement were not disclosed, it's a safe bet that Google will have to pay AFP for content. Google has agreements with news giants Associated Press and Reuters as well, and in February, it lost a court case in which Belgian publishers' organisation Copiepresse claimed Google News had infringed its members' copyright.

While it's easy to see old media's point here - Google does get a free ride on the content they paid to create and earns money out of it - you have to wonder if Zell and Co aren't digging themselves deeper into the hole that online has become for them.

Zell seems to think that not even AFP-style deals are sufficient, and he's right. A link from Google News usually means readers go to single story and that's it. They don't linger on the site, reading other stories and view ads. Instead, they go back to Google News and look for more stories on the same subject, or check out other subjects.

From that point of view, Google News is a parasite for news media, one that sucks the juice out of them while only giving pennies back (if there's an agreement, that is).

On the other hand, Google News brings many different news sources together, often ones that readers would never visit normally. This is an attractive proposition for readers, and Zell doesn't say how he proposes to counter this; then there are papers like the New Zealand Herald that seem to have embraced Google completely. The Herald's search function has been down for ages now. When you try to use it, you're get a Google search instead:
NZH Search
Another issue that Zell and old media needs to think about is if Google News goes beyond simple aggregation and becomes a news organisation. Google News is immensely popular so why not? There's plenty of money to hire journalists and editors to write for Google News; it just depends on when it becomes a cost-effective proposition. A partnership with an existing news organisation isn't likely to work here either, as none have sufficient global reach to satisfy Google (if there was such an entity, it'd be The Other Google News already).

Google has so far been very reluctant to move beyond using others content but pressure from old media could tip the scales.

Update Jason Calacanis take on Zell, old media and Google is quite, quite different...

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