Newspapers Are Mad at Search Engines

I saw this article this morning but was racing out to a meeting at StepUp.com and so I didn’t have time to do a post earlier. From Reuters:

The Paris-based World Association of Newspapers, whose members include dozens of national newspaper trade bodies, said it is exploring ways to "challenge the exploitation of content by search engines without fair compensation to copyright owners."

Web sites like Google and its specialized Google News service automatically pull in headlines, photos and short excerpts of articles from thousands of news sources, linking back to the publishers’ own site. Google News does not currently carry advertising.

"They’re building a new medium on the backs of our industry, without paying for any of the content," Ali Rahnema, managing director of the association, told Reuters in an interview.

"The news aggregators are taking headlines, photos, sometimes the first three lines of an article — it’s for the courts to decide whether that’s a copyright violation or not."

While this attitude (and the frustration behind it) is certainly understandable, it’s unlikely that a litigation-oriented approach will be successful as a strategy for newspapers in the long run.

This is a larger version of the Craigslist-Oodle aggregators vs. content producer debate. (And see Jakob Nielsen’s anti-search screed as another salvo in this same debate.)

The newspapers (at least as represented in WAN’s public statements) are frustrated that Google, Yahoo! and others appear to be reaping the benefits of their content creation while they struggle to maintain subscribers and defend against advertiser defections. But it’s a mistake to simply say, by implication, our industry’s challenges and problems can be attributed to news aggregators that take our content for free.

I’m quite sympathetic to newspapers and believe that news organizations have a critical role to play in democratic societies and thus need to succeed and thrive online (The N.Y. Times broke the NSA wiretapping story, not a blogger and not TV).

If the newspapers can collectively negotiate some financial/content licensing arrangement with news aggregators (one of which, Topix, is owned by newspapers) that’s great. However, ultimately, they should focus on delivering value to their users and advertisers and working together to create networks to leverage their traffic — rather than on legal efforts to block or tax the collection and distribution of their content.

Litigation in this case is not a competitive strategy; it’s a form of denial.

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Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Watch does a nice roundup of the coverage of the "newspapers want search engines to pay" story.

My colleague Mike Boland points me to this news aggregation aggregator. 🙂

And, from the other end of the spectrum, AT&T raises the toll road question again per Om Malik.

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