The Belgian court decision ruling that Google News violates copyright when it publishes information from contributing newspapers without first obtaining permission is a reminder of the precarious nature of much of the information flow we take for granted on the web.
No matter that the Belgian newspapers in question benefit from the “free exposure” they get from being listed by Google when it aggregates the news. Many will say that’s not the point, and I agree. A key issue is, in my opinion, that someone (i.e., Google) makes money from aggregating and displaying copyrighted information content generated by others.
I’ll be the first to admit that Google exposure is extraordinarily valuable. I regularly measure the sources that contribute to my own blog’s incoming traffic so I know who is buttering my bread. I welcome the traffic I get from Google.
That doesn’t mean I give up all rights to my intellectual property. Nor do I think a “fair use” defense makes sense when dealing with industrial strength aggregators such as Google. We’re not talking about an occasional quotation of an extract of a quote in a review or scholarly paper, we’re talking about a company that depends on availability of published content to drive its ad based revenue.
Somehow we need to figure out a way to accommodate the desire that some publishers have to be paid for their work, especially when it contributes to the revenue generated by others. I know this is a messy situation, but at the same time, I don’t walk into my local Safeway and demand a discount because my taxes subsidize the growing of some of the vegetables I see there. Shouldn’t publishers be able to decide whether or not they subsidize the commercial activities of companies like Google?
Copyright (c) 2007 by Dennis D. McDonald