The most significant copyright case against Google News, that filed by Agence France-Presse back in March 2005, has now ended. Google has signed a licensing agreement with AFP that settles the suit. News from the AFP here. The statement from both companies has the usual spin that this is about "new" uses rather than Google having done wrong. Some background on that, below.
Back in August 2006, Google signed an agreement with the Associated Press. The AP hadn’t sued Google over news usage, but it had made noises. Google told me at the time:
The license in this agreement provides for new uses of original AP content for features and products we will introduce in the future. We are very excited about the innovative new products we will build with full access to this content.
Google also said it wasn’t the first deal it had cut with a news provider. But what were these new features? I speculated what Google might do based on a similar deal that was cut between the AP and Topix:
AP stories can originate from one of thousands of member publications. Any of those thousands of member publications might also republish an AP story. Which story is the originating one? That’s useful for a search engine to know, if you don’t want your results to get overwhelmed by having duplicates of all the same content.
In terms of fairness, Topix uses the agreement to get a rich data feed of content from the AP (along with many other things). This helps them better understand if an AP story originated from a particular member publication and, if so, to link over to the publication that deserves the credit.
The agreement also allows Topix to put AP-originated national and international stories on its own site, rather than having to guess at which of many different news sites to point at.
For example, if the AP runs some international story that an AP reporter has written, how should Topix decide which newspaper to point at? Just pick some random newspaper that had nothing to do with creating it? And if so, what about registration or payment issues that might be in place at that random paper.
Hosting AP national and international stories helps solve this problem. Of course, hosting AP stories that come from the AP directly also means Topix — and indirectly the AP — can earn from ad revenue.
Understanding what Topix does with the AP shed sheds some light on possible Google motivations in working with the AP. Perhaps we’ll see hosted stories as Topix is doing — and as Yahoo also does — for some of the reasons explained above. And perhaps the deal also is to give Google better news search capabilities as I’ve also outlined, something that’s hard to do without a deeper relationship.
To date, we’ve yet to see any of these features happen. I have no doubt that at some point, we’ll see AP stories hosted on Google itself. But the most significant thing the agreement has done is prevent the AP from filing a suit against Google over crawling and summarizing its content on Google News.
Google, of course, argued that the AP agreement wasn’t about getting legal permission for what it had been doing. It remained resolute that how it puts material on Google News remained fair use, telling me:
Google News is fully consistent with fair use and always has been.
Now skip forward to the suit that Belgian news publishers filed against Google. Google managed to get some groups to drop that case last November after signing a licensing agreement. As I’ve explained:
Google didn’t specify what the agreement covered, other than to say:
"It’s a way for us to use their content in new ways beyond what copyright law currently allows us without the permission of the authors," said Powell said.
My between-the-lines analysis of the situation I wrote at the time explained:
The Sofam deal might help solve some of Google’s legal issues in Belgium. The group represents the rights of nearly 4,000 photographers in Belgium, Google said. Google did NOT say how this might translate into usage at Google News.
So far, it has been AP all over again. New uses of the Belgium content haven’t appeared, but the agreement helped cause copyright challenges from some to disappear.
Now onto the AFP settlement. From the news report, the statement is:
The deal "will enable the use of AFP’s newswire content in innovative, new ways that will dramatically improve the way users experience newswire content on the Internet," the statement said.
As with AP, I’m sure we’ll see AFP stories eventually show up on Google itself. Moreover, all the member publications that carry AP and AFP content that currently get traffic from Google News will likely see this start to disappear, as the "source" documents on Google itself get preference. And those documents will no doubt accompanied by ads with revenues split to the AP and AFP. Still, that’s better for searchers, as long as unlike with Yahoo, the stories don’t disappear after 30 days into oblivion.
Postscript: Statement now in full, below:
AFP and Google have signed a licensing agreement that will enable the use of AFP’s newswire content in innovative, new ways that will dramatically improve the way users experience newswire content on the Internet. It will also help highlight original journalism, giving credit to the newswire journalists who worked hard to break the news. The new collaboration will ensure that AFP’s original journalism and breaking news are easily discoverable on Google services and in particular on Google News.