Google UK boss: We don't steal stories, we're a newsagent

Google’s UK boss today denied he ran a parasitic organisation that stole stories instead suggesting the search engine was a “virtual newsagent”.

Matt Brittin, managing director of Google UK, told a committee of MPs that the search giant provided about 100,000 clicks a minute to news publishers’ websites.

Giving evidence to a Culture, Media and Sport Committee looking into the future of local and regional media, Brittin said Google News didn’t make “any great measure” of money and that it simply provided a distribution network to news sources on the web.

Chairman John Whittingdale said the committee had had evidence from the newspaper industry that it did not see Google as a great benefactor, but more like a parasite.

News Corporation chairman and chief executive Rupert Murdoch has also famously accused the search giant of “stealing stories” from his newspaper websites – including The Sun and The Times.

Brittin, a former Trinity Mirror executive, responded: “I’ve read in newspapers, oddly enough, some of the comments that have been made about parasites.

“I want to make one thing incredibly clear – we do not steal content.”

He said Google contained “snippets” of news stories with a link to the originator’s website, in line with copyright law.

“It’s wrong to paint us as stealing content. We are, if you like, a virtual newsagent…

“In a physical newsagent’s, newspapers will pay the newsagent to have their newspapers in the shop. We don’t charge anybody for this service. This is a free service.”

Brittin said last year UK advertising revenues for Google were growing by around 20 to 30 per cent but this slowed to zero in the early part of this year.

It was put to him that newspapers saw Google as the body that poached advertising, he said: “That implies a feeling of ownership of advertising, which perhaps isn’t the way that the advertisers would see it.”

Brittin said the debate raging in journalism about giving away free content highlighted how the rapid pace of change was forcing companies to experiment digitally. He said initiatives such as testing out a paid subscription service online were “a good thing”.

Brittin also discussed Google’s announcement that it is limiting access to paid-for news websites – that would usually require a subscription – through its “first click free” system.

He said: “We’ve provided more control for those kinds of publishers so they can allow people to come through from Google News up to five times before they’re shown the paywall. They can no longer exploit that sort of loophole…

“Those publishers who make their content available for free, there’s no change… there’s just this additional level of control for publishers who currently have or want to experiment with a paid service.”

He predicted there would be more of these services where content was scarce or targeted.

“There’s a good case for there being subscription models,” he said.

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