Do Newspapers Owe Google “Fair Share” Fees For Researching Stories?

As the rhetoric over how Google “rips-off” newspapers, magazines and other print publishers continues, a thought occurred to me this weekend. Perhaps Google should charge publications whose reporters tap into the service to research their stories? Perhaps that might underscore, especially for the Associated Press, the absurdity of trying to charge for the mere right to link to content and summarize what stories are about.

The AP’s views have especially been on my mind since I wrote my Sorry, Tom Curley: Don’t Expect A Google Ranking Boost For The AP story over at Search Engine Land. Curley is the AP’s CEO, and he made headlines suggesting that the AP would pull its stories out of Google until it gets the “right deal.”

Some of this seems to revolve around the AP’s idea that they should, as I explained in my article, be able to charge people (including Google) for the right to link to their stories or summarize them.

After all, you know, Google’s making so much money by listing this content. Indeed, CEO Jim Spanfeller alleges that Google’s making at least $60 million off his brand, in some way he didn’t actually explain. My CEO Spanfeller Attacks Google, Stumbles Into His Own Cesspool article at Search Engine Land gets into much more depth about that.

That Google sends these news publications huge amounts of traffic doesn’t seem enough. They want, somehow, a cut of Google’s profits. That’s especially so because, as they’re happy to remind the world, they have the “quality” content.

How We Used To Research News Stories

But now let’s flip things around. It’s commonplace for a news reporter these days to conduct a Google search to locate information as part of their reporting. It wasn’t always that way.

When I was a reporter, we had to walk six miles through the snow to the newspaper’s library, where we either pulled hard-copy clips or got the always amazing newspaper librarian to help us locate important information. If we were savvy, we’d tap into LexisNexis — a collection of newspaper and magazine articles that our publications paid dearly for. The really savvy among us learned the arcane search language to get the most out of LexisNexis.

If we needed eyewitness reports, we got out into the field. Or we started calling around to seek expert sources. Working for a West Coast paper, three hours “behind” stories that tracked on Eastern time, I occasionally would call “backwards” to Hawaii if I needed a key source after things had closed in the continental US.

Google : The New Newsroom Librarian?

Reporting today? Need an expert? A Google search quickly finds plenty of them, along with in-depth reporting on a particular topic. In my career covering search, I’ve probably done nearly 1,000 interviews with mainstream reporters. Many of them found me through a Google search and learned background needed to write their own stories by reading my articles.

None of them paid me.

None of them paid Google for the research they performed.

Well, I got traffic, right? Ah, but that’s not enough for the AP and some other papers, so why should it be for me?

Well, I got attention, right? Ah, but plenty of experts can’t actually live on attention alone. Maybe they get some consulting. Maybe they get traffic to their blogs. But perhaps they should be getting a fair share of what news publications earn off their expertise (see Cheapskate Investment Analysts & The Financial Crisis for some further thoughts on this).

Arguably, the AP and other mainstream reporting operations could not do their jobs, or certainly not nearly as well, without the free service that Google (and other search engines) provides them. The core of that service is the unfettered ability to list pages from across the web with short summaries, as long as site owners themselves doesn’t block being included (virtually no one does).

Given this, it’s pretty hypocritical for the AP to take, take, take from Google in terms of both traffic it receives as well as free research it taps into without giving back by allowing its content to be listed freely.

AP “Unavailable” To Comment

That leads me to the new content protection system that the AP is trying to put into place. I’ve been trying to flesh out more details about this, but ironically for a news organization, the AP is simply going all “no comment” on me.

For two weeks now, I’ve been doing a back and forth with AP’s director of media relations Paul Colford to talk with anyone at the AP about their gripes with Google and plans to deal with search content in general. It’s gone nowhere.

On May 1, I asked:

I’d like to talk with Tom Curley about the APs current negotiations with Google, some of its concerns and follow up on some of the statements Curley made in this article about how Google operates to list AP content and other content.

In response, I was told:

Tom Curley is unavailable.

These links outline the AP’s position on content protection and should be helpful:

Our I.P. rights page:

Also, FAQs:

CEO Tom Curley on “Charlie Rose”:

I followed up asking if there was a reason that Curley was unavailable. No answer. I asked again to speak to him or anyone at the AP about issues with Google and AP content. No answer. After I wrote my story about Curley’s comments, I asked yet again to talk with someone from the AP. No answer.

On May 5, I made my fifth attempt to talk with someone from the AP, which the next day finally got this response:

As indicated earlier, after a bunch of interviews done already, our executives are done for now as they focus on the content-protection initiative announced on April 6.

OK, this kind of irked me. Colford hadn’t indicated anything earlier about why no one from the AP was able to talk. Now, apparently, there’s a quiet period. Amazing. I wrote back:

Are you telling me that no AP executives are commenting publicly on the issues that have been raised over the past few weeks in relation to Google? And no one is able to talk more about your content-protection plans? When will they be back and able to talk about things?

I’m trying to understand if part of that will involve what Curley indicated would happen, the selling of headlines, summaries and full-text stories as separate items. I don’t think you have a system in place for doing this. I’m fairly sure Curley was hoping that ACAP would take care of it. I’m on the ACAP official working group mailing list, and I’ve seen no indication that it is ready to go in terms of doing such a thing, much less for search engines to implement it.

A key question I also have is about the terms the AP has with both Google and Yahoo. Clearly the AP isn’t happy with its Google deal. I’d like to know more about the existing deal and in particular, how it differs from AP’s deal with Yahoo. The AP has never spoken out against Yahoo, to my knowledge. They have news search service that’s larger than Google’s. What’s better about the Yahoo deal, and if the AP got the same, would it be happy?

I have a number of other questions, but why don’t you check again to see if there’s anyone at the AP who might possibly be free to speak about some of these issues.

To date, I’ve still had no response. Meanwhile, it’s interesting to see what you can learn just from the AP’s site itself.

How About $100 To Quote 251 Words?

Let’s consider last week’s wonderful story from the AP about how old Japanese maps on Google Earth are causing problems with some in that country. Given that news stories have a tendency to disappear, I’m going to link to the story using its entire headline: Old Japanese maps on Google Earth unveil secrets. Now if the story should move for some reason, as least with the headline, there’s a chance of locating it in some new location.

Look at the bottom of the article, and you’ll see a link that says “Click here for copyright permissions!” Click on that, and you get this page, which has an option to follow if you want to post all or part of the story on the web, such as on a blog. Select that option, and you get asked about posting an excerpt from the story. You’re then asked to copy and paste the chunk of text you want to quote. From 5-25 words will cost $12.50, and the price goes up to $100 if you want to quote more than 251 words.

Seriously? $100 to quote 250 words? Try a search for that article on Google, and you’ll see it’s typically summarized with about 20 words. That’s $12.50 per listing that the AP would want, if Google paid the “retail” rate. Plus, potentially Google might have to pay that 220,000 times, since there may be that many copies of this article on the web according to that search. Certainly there are hundreds of copies hosted by AP members, thanks to the AP’s own inability to deal with how its members handling republishing its stories (see Hey AP! How About Running A Real News Web Site? for more about this).

Copy & Paste? Go To Jail!

Now you might be scratching your head wondering if you really have to pay this much money to quote from an article like that. If you’re uncertain, iCopyright — the company the AP uses to handle its licensing — is happy to explain these facts to you.

Cutting and pasting copyrighted content and then posting it on the web or distributing it to others in any form, except for personal use or certain “fair uses,” requires permission from the publisher.

Kind of scary, especially when you see elsewhere on that page:

Don’t use your browser to cut, copy, and paste copyrighted content. It is wrong and, in most cases, illegal.

Cut and paste is in most cases illegal? Seriously? Can you imagine how many AP reporters cut and paste material from the web into pieces they’re working on, either to quote directly or in order to paraphrase? The AP must be a den of illegality!

That page also links to two places to learn more about fair use. One of the links is off the iCopyright site and doesn’t work. The other links to a fair use page in iCopyright, which says:

The distinction between “fair use” and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.

U.S. Copyright Law cites examples of activities that courts have regarded as fair use: “quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment; quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author’s observations; use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied; summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report; reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy; reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson; reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports; incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported.”

Copyright protects the particular way an author has expressed himself; it does not extend to any ideas, systems, or factual information conveyed in the work.

The safest course is always to get permission from the copyright owner before using copyrighted material. The U.S. Copyright Office cannot give this permission.

The bold parts were put in by iCopyright itself. I think — for those who eventually get to this page — that’s it’s more of the same, a slant to freak people out and send them running to the formal copyright permissions form that I’ve mentioned. That form only has paid options — there’s no way to put in a “is this fair use?” request.

Let’s not stop there. Part of the AP’s new licensing plans, as covered in my Search Engine Land article on Curley mentioned above, is to charge for the right to even list headlines. Remember how I linked to the AP story using its exact headline? In the future, potentially the AP wants to charge me for that.

Only The Mainstream Media Discovers News (Or So The AP Believes)

The AP also wants to make “search pages” as part of its new initiative:

When consumers look for news today on search engines, they often get directed in a random fashion to a wide variety of news sources, blogs and other Web pages. Searches on breaking news topics such as floods, earthquakes and shootings don’t dependably produce results from authoritative local news sources, and often not even to those media responsible for producing the news stories. AP will work with its member newspapers, broadcasters and other media to create a set of search-optimized pages that will guide users to the most timely, authoritative coverage related to their searches

I’ve bolded a key part. The AP has this idea that news seems to spring forth from the foreheads of its own reporters, and then all the blogs just climb on and ride all the AP’s hard work. Such as with that story about Japanese maps in Google Earth — when that came out, my own publication linked over to the story.

See what leeches blogs are? Read our story, and maybe you don’t actually decide to read the AP’s story. But they did all that hard work — those damn bloggers need to be curtailed, so that the “originating” source gets the most credit.

Know what? AP’s not the originating source of that article. Nope. See, I emailed the story’s author, asking how he came across this upset in Japan. He’d seen some stuff in the blogs in Japan about how these old maps might impact minorities and so dug around and got into the story about Google Earth.

None of these blogs are mentioned in the story. No links lead to them or any other source that was involved in this story making it into the AP wire. Why aren’t some of these originating sources in there?

Because that’s not typically the way the mainstream media tends to roll. They pick up tips from plenty of online sources, but those source often aren’t cited. Hell, they pick up tips from each other but will pretend they didn’t get the news from competitors, unless it’s so blatantly obvious they were scooped that it would be embarrassing not to mention it.

So spare me the idea that the AP or any newspaper isn’t somehow getting the “right” credit. I’d damn well like to see Google and other search engine do a better job in ensuring that a real “originating” story does get a top rank. But those stories aren’t always from the mainstream press, and that type of rhetoric isn’t winning hearts-and-minds with hardworking bloggers who are an irreversible and integral part today’s news ecosystem.