WAN conference: 'Don't let Google dictate terms to us'

Independent News and Media chief executive Gavin O’Reilly today urged news publishers to defend their copyright insisting that it is not for Google to ‘dicate’to them.

Speaking at the closing session of the World Association of Newspapers congress in India, O’Reilly (who is the organisation’s president), said: ‘Media business models – almost without exception – are dependent on copyright; they always have been and will always be…

‘However, what is clear is that collectively, we haven’t made copyright work properly on the web, and that is down to we content creators who have perhaps foolishly failed to enforce our copyright.”

Google yesterday revealed changes to its First Click Free which offers an alternative to de-listing from the search engine for publishers who want to charge for their content online.

It said that it would offer a service whereby readers where given five articles a day free from a news site – before being asked to pay for content.

According to O’Reilly: ‘The lack of copyright functionality online is, though, also down to the content aggregators who have broken that link between audience and success, who have seized the opportunity and opted for an ‘a la carte’ vision of copyright to serve their own business needs and who, as we have seen with Google’s announcement yesterday about First Click Free, believe it is their role to dictate to publishers which business models Google will permit them to follow. So, what is missing is the collective will to guarantee copyright protection and the technology to manage it.”


O’Reilly’s solution is the three-year-old WAN-sponsored Automated Content Access Protocol, a technology which ‘seeks to provide a modest (if essential) part of that infrastructure: the language which allows machines to speak to one another without fear or favour”.

Hitting back at Google’s reluctance to adopt ACAP, he said: ‘Google’s mantra is ‘Do no Evil'”, and I make no apology for reminding them of that. Nor do I make an apology for reminding them that copyright is not some intellectual abstract – it is the law – and I’d suggest that Google needs to start to work in good faith to find solutions that enshrine copyright, not abuse it. And unilaterally issuing decrees frankly doesn’t do it.

‘The way to do it is sit down with us, discuss the issues, understand what publishers want – individually and collectively. Negotiate and be flexible. Acknowledge mutual benefit. Do it the way other people do it – forming an agreement by actually agreeing on something.”

Google hits back

Speaking at the same WAN debate, Google chief legal counsel David Drummond said: ‘We send online news publishers of all types a billion clicks a month from Google News and more than three billion additional visits from Search and other Google services. That’s about 100,000 business opportunities – to serve ads or offer subscriptions – every minute. And we don’t charge anything for that!”

He added: ‘In terms of copyright – we typically show only a headline and a line or two from each story, so readers can decide if they’re interested in finding out more – much as they can at the newsstand.”

According to Drummond, the debate isn’t simply a question of whether online content is on Google or whether it is charged for.

He said: ‘We offer a variety of ways, like First Click Free, for publishers to keep their paid content discoverable in Google. This week we’ve announced an adjustment to that service, so that publishers can limit users to no more than five stories per day without registering or subscribing. And we’re actively exploring technology solutions that might help publishers with some of the logistical problems in charging for content, such as billing systems for subscriptions or micropayments. But at the end of the day, it’s the publishers who decide. If they don’t want us to index their content, they can use simple technical tools to let us know.

‘The Robots Exclusion Protocol, which is honoured by all good search engines, gives the publisher tremendous control over how content is shown. Don’t index this section of my site, display my headlines but not story snippets, remove this article from the index after a certain date, and so on. ‘Today I can announce that we’re giving publishers even more control by launching a separate crawler for Google News. That means that if you choose you can give Google one set of instructions for how we should treat your content in Google News and a different set of instructions for Google Search.

‘We’re convinced that journalism is a valuable, vital ingredient of democracy. We acknowledge that so far it has been difficult for newspapers to monetise their online content. But just as there is no single cause of the industry’s current problems, there is no single, or easy, solution.

‘The solution will mean new technological ways to reach audiences, both wide and narrow, to keep them engaged longer and to generate more money. It will mean new models that combine free and paid access to content. It will mean better display advertising that makes more money for publishers. And it should mean a change in tone – and I think this week we can detect one. Talk of tapeworms and kleptomania is not only wide of the mark – it won’t solve the fundamental problems.

‘We’re eager to play our part in solving those problems. We’re working with more than three dozen partners, testing a service called Google Fast Flip, which is designed to blend the beauty and user experience of print with the benefits of the web. The theory is that if you can make it easier and faster to read articles on the web, people will read more of them – and the first indications are encouraging. Our news partners like the New York Times and the Washington Post receive the majority of the revenue generated by the contextual display ads. Since Fast Flip launched in September, we’ve had a great deal of interest from publishers, and we look forward to announcing new international partners shortly.”

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