Monday, September 18, 2006

Is Google Really Just One Big Splog??

Think about this: Okay, you're the Belgian Association of News Editors. And you've noticed that Google's been aggregating the content of all your newspapers and not paying them one red Euro for it. What happens next? You lodge a complaint in the Belgian Courts against Google who then find that:
If Google doesn't comply with this month's ruling and continues to publish Belgian newspaper copy without permission and without paying a fee, the Belgian Court of First Instance will fine the company €1 million ($1.27 million) daily, the association said. "It's an infraction of Belgian and EU laws, the newspapers are losing money this way and, above all, Google thinks it is outside the law," the association's Secretary-General Margaret Boribon said.


So there.

But, if you think about it, isn't that kind of what sploggers do--take your content, republish it, not tell you, then make money off of it?

Think about it....

Update: Google drops Belgian news...oh, well...guess all their spare change is going towards paying the AP.

Update 9/24/06 Steve Yelvington dissects the Belgian Court decision....one of Steve's points:
Google is sending valuable traffic to publishers, and squaring off against Google is self-destructive. This is not relevant to the question of whether Google's repurposing practices amount to fair use or thievery. But it also isn't automatically true. Publishers benefit from some sorts of Google listings and not from others. Many publishers have a business model predicated entirely on service to a geographically focused community and derive little benefit (and often great expense) from Google-driven traffic. And, of course, publishers suffer when the new summary pages of Google News take away the audience that otherwise would have gone to the publishers' content on their own sites.
It appears that, as I thought, the argument the Belgian papers have is not with aggregating a few lines, but with the article's storage on Google. Once an article is "cached" in Google, that it remains in Google, and that readers never get to the site where the article originally appeared. In this particular sense, not in the sense of aggregating a few lines and then sending traffic to the newspaper's site via a link, Google is indeed acting like a splog. They're holding the content and making money from it in perpetuity. not cool, Google, not cool. Steve concludes: "I'm not eager to see lawsuits against search engines as a primary tool for resolving this issue, but it seems to me that the Belgian ruling is well grounded in the reality of today's Internet. There is a line between fair use and thievery, and it is not Google's to define through unilateral action."

Oh, and let's remember folks: Google is not a public library, and its collecting of content may not be for quite the same reasons as that of a public library.

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5 comments:

Amy said...

Good one tish! Point taken. Of course, the difference is that Google is generally useful. So I guess that makes is a symbiotic splog, rather than a parasitic one...

They're all slimy little critters, anyway....

- Amy Gahran

Tish Grier said...

I think it was Jeaneane Sessum who said that if you're aggregating her content, you're her business partner and therefore pay up....aggregating's a lot different than just linking for reference.

At least Google doesn't put you in an endless splog loop once you click a link. but, geeze! if they're going to aggregate the entire thing, at least pay up a bit.

spcoon said...

newspapers of all shapes and sizes would be smart to consider google a no-cost form of advertising -- especially in this age of dwindling readership. sure, google benefits, but newspapers get the better of the deal.

Jersey Exile said...

The whole idea of search revolves around the aggregation of content. As long as Google is only presenting headlines or snippets and redirecting searchers to the relevant material, I don't think we can call it a "splog". Fair use has been on the run in this brave new digital era, but I think in this case it really does still apply.

Bear in mind that Google had lots of people crying foul in the 1990's when it started spidering the internet, because after all wasn't Google *stealing* online content in order to index it? Back then Google was still under the aegis of Stanford University and administrators were able to mollify the aggrieved/concerned parties without legal action. But if lawsuits such as the one in Belgium start sticking, then what's to stop anyone with copyrighted material (i.e., everyone) from making similar demands?

The more important issue here, however, is over the practice of "deep linking" . The WSJ article makes it clear that the real objection of the Belgian Association of News Editors is not so much that Google is aggregating their content -- because after all who doesn't want as many hits as they can get for free? -- but that the search giant isn't doing it their way. The Belgians don't want deep linking because they like to see themselves as portals.

In the publishers' scheme, Google should be depositing their readers at the newspaper's home page and not the relevant article, because they've sold their advertisers on the whole conceit of portaldom. But why should Google be forced to subsidize this flawed business model by court order? Moreover, think of how annoying this would be if extended to the entire Internet and search engines were only permitted to deliver us to the front door of a given website, newspaper, or blog.

As for the difference between aggregating and indexing, fundamentally I don't think there is one. Search is such a sophisticated process that you cannot be indexed without being aggregated; at the same time, indexed search results themselves are more or less meaningless to the end user without providing aggregated content for context. I guess the major question that's evolving as we speak is whether the aggregation of content that provides the basic building blocks for "Web 2.0" applications such as Google News is going to force us to reassess the legality and economics of such endeavors. But I guess we'll find that out soon enough!

Tish Grier said...

Sean and Jersey...

first, thanks Jersey(my favorite librarian) for the excellent explanation...you threw out some terms such as "deep linking" that I'm going to have to learn more about....

I agree that having google grab one's headlines is a really good thing. but I tend to think that when one clicks the link, one should be referred back to the source of the article/news story, and not to an internal google page that displays the story.

Google as a portal is indeed a pretty good thing. I thought the article made it sound as if Google were aggregating the entire article, not just acting as a portal....

This blog is aggregated by Topix.net. Topix makes some money off of aggregating a few lines of my posts, then, I believe, it's up to me to have ads here if I want to take advantage of any ad income that I might get from hits from Topix.

But, if Google's acting like a proxy, then I see the problem...

There is, however, a plethora of confusing ways in which to read content--RSS, proxies, syndication services, and search engines...but I'm a bit wary of Google in general these days. Not necessarily because of they appear to want to control access to all content (their latest: aggregating 200 years worth of newspaper/magazine content.)

There's something super-fishy with Google that lots of people are sensing...but can't put their fingers on...

yet it's not just google. If google's allowed do do so much, then what defense do we have against sploggers? See the great article on sploggers in Wired here