Europe to Google — stop that!

You might think that what Google does is simple — it indexes Web pages and other content, including news stories from various sources, such as my employer globeandmail.com — and then it lets people search for things. That’s not what European publishers and news agencies think it does, however. As far as they’re concerned, Google steals their content and then — to make things even worse — sells advertising that runs alongside it, thereby depriving them of revenue and stealing food out of their childrens’ mouths (Note: I made up that last part).

According to the Associated Press, Francisco Pinto Balsemao of the European Publishers Council said (or planned to say) at a conference in Brussels that “The new models of Google and others reverse the traditional permission-based copyright model of content trading that we have built up over the years.” Such companies, he said, “help themselves to copyright-protected material, build up their own business models around what they have collected, and parasitically, earn advertising revenue off the back of other people’s content,” which is “unlikely to be sustainable for publishers in the longer term.”

Just one question springs to mind: What planet is Mr. Balsemao from? Google and Yahoo don’t “help themselves” to copyright-protected content — they index it so that people can find it, and then they show them where to go to get more of it. That’s why searches return a bunch of links, rather than just a pile of other people’s content. Google News, which is the subject of a similarly narrow-minded lawsuit by Agence France-Presse, shows small portions of news stories and then links to the original site. If people don’t want to follow the link, that’s not Google’s fault.

Maybe Mr. Balsemao and his group will take their fight to the libraries and bookstores next — after all, they display copyrighted content and sell services related to it. How dare they?

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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