Discussions between Google and the Associated Press about renewing their content licensing deal continue, I assume, but all’s quiet recently on the negotiation front. I want to disrupt that. It would be wrong in this particular case for both parties to reach a deal where “terms are not disclosed.” The future of journalism, as well as Google’s own reputation, deserves for things to open up.
After threatening a lawsuit against Google several years ago, AP won its first licensing deal with Google in 2006. Google was at pains to stress this wasn’t a deal designed to gain the rights to merely list AP stories. It was supposed to cover more “new” and “extensive” uses of AP material.
Bull. Today, you can still search at Google and find that it fails to list just one “originating” AP story in many cases. Sure, Google hosts AP stories, but it wasn’t like Google set out trying for that goal. It was just as happy as pointing outward. The bottom line was that the deal was a nice wrapper to go around getting the AP off Google’s back.
Now the AP’s been on again that without the right deal, it’ll pull content from Google. Technically, how they’ll do that is absurd. Will the AP robots.txt out its entire site? And ensure that all of its members do the same for any AP story? More likely, it would fall back to the lawsuit front.
But what’s the right deal? What’s Google paying the AP now, and what happened in three years that this amount wasn’t enough? Since the terms were never disclosed, the public can’t judge.
And the public needs to judge, especially as newspapers have secret stealth meetings (which involve AP CEO Tom Curley) which involve sessions like:
Journalism Online: Presentation on proposed service to charge for access to newspaper content and to license that content that (sic) online aggregators
See, some in the newspaper industry persist in the assumption that merely listing headlines and summarizing stories is a copyright offense. The AP itself wants to charge for this and already has guidelines that make some people think they might be violating fair use laws when they aren’t (see Do Newspapers Owe Google “Fair Share” Fees For Researching Stories?).
In other quarters, we have people like Forbes.com CEO Jim Spanfeller pulling $60 million dollar figures out of the air, about what he thinks Google owes him and suggesting that Google is helping to destroy “one of the core building blocks of our democracy.”
Since so much is at stake here — democracy itself! — it doesn’t seem right that Google and the AP will reach a deal that no one gets the details too. Shouldn’t all journalistic enterprises, be they traditional or not, understand exactly the value Google’s willing to pay to one with a big mouth and a staff of lawyers?
Moreover, shouldn’t Google be taking a stand on behalf of the majority of publishers who I’d argue have no problem with aggregators or search engines listing their content. A small number of publishers with inflated opinions about their importance are pushing for (and winning) concessions to compensate for their dying business models and lack of foresight. Aren’t the wrong people being rewarded?
You have to appreciate the rich irony. I can’t get the AP to talk with me at all (their execs are all busy, I’ve been told). When their CEO attends a stealth meeting, it’s not even the AP that first reports about it despite the AP being so convinced that they originate stories. Instead, the AP story points to an Atlantic blog post that broke the news. And Google, which touts being open any time it is convenient, is being hush-mouthed here.
Google needs to step up. Defend the “fair use” rights it believes it has on its own behalf and those of the greater web ecosystem. Alternatively, negotiate a deal to solve its AP problem but do it openly, so everyone else understands what exactly is being given up.