“[Publishers] choose to stay and have content discoverable because they find it helpful to have huge numbers of people coming through to their content.”
Flashback: Google allows publishers to limit free content | FOX News owner’s media empire could block Google searches entirely | Murdoch CEO Labels Bloggers “Political Extremists” | Reuters Steps Up; Says Linking, Excerpting, Sharing Are Good Things For The News | Associated Press Tries To DRM The News | Should linking be illegal?
Christ Tryhorn, The Guardian
December 3, 2009
Search engine is like a ‘virtual newsagent’, says Google’s UK director following accusation that it steals content
Google defended its treatment of news organisation today, as its UK head rejected Rupert Murdoch’s charge that it is guilty of “theft”.
Matt Brittin, the director of Google UK, insisted that publishers had control over how their material appeared on the controversial aggregation service Google News, likening it to a “virtual newsagent”.
“We do not steal content. If you look at Google search and Google News what you will find is snippets, a little line that will take you through to the original websites,” he told MPs on the Commons culture, media and sport select committee.
“That’s accepted as in line with copyright law worldwide, seen as like a newspaper article quoting lines from a book in a book review. We defend copyright owners’ rights and it’s wrong to paint us as stealing content. We are like a virtual newsagent.”
Brittin’s appearance at parliament coincided with a similar defence of the company by Google’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt.
Writing in the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal, Schmidt said Google was not to blame for the news industry’s problems and wanted to help news publishers to prosper.
“With dwindling revenue and diminished resources, frustrated newspaper executives are looking for someone to blame,” he wrote.
“Much of their anger is currently directed at Google, whom many executives view as getting all the benefit from the business relationship without giving much in return. The facts, I believe, suggest otherwise.”
Schmidt said ads appearing alongside news articles on Google contributed a “tiny fraction” of the company’s overall revenue.
In his evidence to MPs, Brittin pointed out that Google News did not carry any advertising in the UK, while search results for news stories tended not to create opportunities for advertisers.
He said that whereas a search for “hotel in Paris” lent itself to a commercial exploitation, entering the term “bomb in Baghdad” was unlikely to attract advertising.
However, many in the newspaper industry believe that even if Google makes little money from news-related searches, it relies on an abundance of high-quality, professionally produced content to maintain its appeal as a search engine.
Google has come under sustained attack recently from Murdoch, who is preparing to introduce online charging at all his newspapers worldwide, including the Sun and the Times in the UK.
While Murdoch renewed his assault this week at a US media regulators’ workshop in Washington, Google has made its first concession to news organisations’ criticisms.
The company has changed the way Google News works to restrict users’ ability to bypass the paywalls of online newspapers that charge subscriptions, such as the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times.
Brittin said Google gave news publishers freedom to use its services as they saw fit and that by providing 100,000 clicks a minute offered them the online traffic they wanted.
“Publishers have control, they choose to make content available for free online,” he added. “They have control now and have always had control to allow them to opt out. They can say, ‘I don’t want to appear in Google search or in Google News or in one and not the other’.
“They choose to stay and have content discoverable because they find it helpful to have huge numbers of people coming through to their content.”
More publishers would experiment with paywalls, he predicted, while others would stick with a free, ad-funded model.
Brittin, who worked as director of strategy and digital at Daily Mirror publisher Trinity Mirror before joining Google in 2007, said that the local newspaper industry were going through a “difficult transition” in part because the internet had diminished the value of print advertising.
But he rejected the accusation that Google “poached” newspapers’ advertising. “That implies a feeling of ownership of advertising [by newspapers], which perhaps isn’t the way advertisers would see it,” he said.
Brittin added that he cared about local papers and saw a “sustainable and successful future for local media over the medium to long term”, pointing out that digital technology reduced the cost of distributing content.
“The economics are going to be different from a time when the only place to advertise was in your local paper. But I think there’s an exciting future.”