Open Letter To Google & The AP: Reveal The Licensing Terms

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

(For more on the stealth meeting, also see the Nieman Journalism Lab report and Techmeme).

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.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: Analysis | Google: Business Issues | Google: News | Legal: Copyright | Legal: Crawling & Indexing | Top News

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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    Is Danny Sullivan the only person that asks these kinds of questions of the news industry? There appears to be an entirely set of self-created rules (possibly made up by AP and others) as to how content should be handled on the Internet. Unfortunately, these are not the same set of rules that the rest of the online world abides by.

    I wonder what news outlets complained about getting their content indexed in 2002, when Google launched their news aggregator in beta. How many billions of visits collectively did major news sites receive? What about those years of online subscription services? Take a peek back at archived Google News home pages from about 2004, and you’ll see dozens of news networks that required subscription or charged for content. What about all the site advertising and populated e-mail lists that were created during those years? Was there no value there?

    Google News is seven years old now, having indexed an untold amount of news content, you’d think media companies would’ve figured out how to leverage this vehicle of delivering information to the public by now.

    Fast forward to today and we have a significantly updated Google News homepage. I have no idea how much traffic the homepage sees on a daily or monthly basis, but as I view current top stories, I see the Associated Press listed as a source for all three topics.

    Clicking on any of those links, in my opinion, delivers results that are lacking in detail, and provide little value to the end-user. Doesn’t that go against Google’s intention of user experience first? Perhaps I am overly critical, but far too often I see AP posts that appear incomplete (“check back soon for further information” frequently accommodates such posts), and they still receive priority placement.

    It seems rather unfair to me that hard-working journalists (whether they be citizen bloggers or hired reporters) are required to take a backseat to mandated “news” articles that at times appear to be little more than placements for upcoming information. I’m referring to the collection of sources provided for any given topic of news article on the Google News homepage.

    Imagine any website taking a similar approach in the world of organic search. Rather than report actual news, the site owners could simply create a headline for a popular topic, followed by a short blurb that an article would appear sometime in the near future. They could then wrap that content in advertising. A “cesspool” of information is how I believe Eric Schmidt would call it. Is it okay that there are different rules applied to big media than the rest of those that provide news information?

    I’d love to see Google move forward with a spirit of equality shared amongst all those that provide news, rather than cater to a select few, that in my opinion have nobody to blame but themselves, for the situation they find themselves in.

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