Google, North American media companies battle over content use

By L. Carol Christopher

INMA

Pleasant Hill, California, USA

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It is not intentional that this week’s news is predominantly about news publishers and their ongoing attempts to obtain remuneration from Google, but the back-and-forth between the two has been compelling. Around the world, from Europe to Australia to North America, publishers are joining together to seek legislation that would make it so.

U.S. publishers band together on unfair use of content 

Google’s Richard Gingras, vice president of news, issued a terse response to a report issued by the News Media Alliance and sent to the Attorney General William Barr at the U.S. Justice Department in June. The organisation also plans to send the paper to the states and the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel.

The News Media Alliance made these three demands of Google in a brief sent to the U.S. Justice Department in June.
The News Media Alliance made these three demands of Google in a brief sent to the U.S. Justice Department in June.

According to Bloomberg, “the Justice Department and a nationwide group of state attorneys general have been investigating the company for nearly a year and are preparing to file lawsuits in what would be the most significant monopolisation case since the U.S. sued Microsoft Corp. in 1998.”

The white paper listed these demands on behalf of the trade organisation’s 2000 members:

  1. Google must stop abusing its market dominance position in its interactions with publishers.
  2. Google must compensate them fairly for the value of their content to Google.
  3. Google must give them meaningful control over the specific uses of their own news articles by Google. 

The paper, “How Google Abuses Its Position as a Market Dominant Platform to Strong-Arm News Publishers and Hurt Journalism,” argues that “many of Google’s current uses of news content likely exceed the boundaries of fair use under the Copyright Act,” and that “Google should have to negotiate an appropriate use-specific license” with news publishers “for each use of their content.” It also posits that “Google has exercised its control over news publishers to force them into several relationships that benefit Google at the publishers’ expense,” including: 

  1. The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) standard, which:
    • Makes it more difficult in some cases to form direct relationships with their readers.
    • Reduces subscription conversion rates by as much as 39%.
    • Limits the use of interactive features in AMP articles.
    • Reduces publisher revenues.
    • Impairs their collection of certain user data.
    • Imposes “onerous terms of use” on news publishers using the AMP URL API, which “appear to give Google broad rights to use AMP formatted articles in any Google products.
  2. The newly designed Google News app, a mobile news aggregator that makes “heavy use of AMP content.”
  3. Google Discover, also a news aggregator, which uses news publishers’ AMP content, and for which no specific-use license has been negotiated.
  4. Google as a “walled garden” — a “final destination rather than an electronic pointer to news websites.”           

Gingras fired back in a Google News Initiative blog post, “Setting the record straight on news,” calling the claims about how Google works with the news industry and its value exchange with publishers “inaccurate,” and saying that while Google is “invested in helping journalism not only survive, but thrive… The value of news to Google is about informing and educating, not economics.”

He disputes the charge that Google’s search results exceed fair use as set out in the U.S. copyright law. (The NMA argues that caching and re-using AMP content rather than acting as an electronic pointer to the original Web site makes Google a publisher, not a search engine.) He sets out the argument that AMP was developed in collaboration with news publishers, and that without it, page-load times would be so long that users would abandon their queries. He also points to recently announced page performance signals that will allow publishers to participate in Google’s Top Stories Carousel without using AMP.

This report is the second sent to the Justice Department on behalf of the news media industry that outlines the possibility that Google is violating antitrust laws. In May, Washington policy group Public Knowledge focused on Google’s effect on publishers’ advertising sales. (Public Knowledge is funded by the Omidyar Network, which was co-founded by eBay Inc. Pierre Omidyar.)

Canadian publishers post letter to government 

Elsewhere, news media publishers in Canada issued a letter drafted by The Globe and Mail Publisher Phillip Crawley (co-signed by a number of his counterparts and published in newspapers across the country in May) that Canada should consider following the French and Australian examples of forcing Google to pay for their content. 

News Media Canada CEO John Hinds, said “the federal government will need to take a leadership role if the power dynamic between Google and publishers is to be changed.” Publishers signing the letter represent a majority of Canadian newspapers. 

Three years ago, a Google tax was pitched to the government that would have taxed digital platforms.

Meanwhile, Stephen Guilbeault, minister of Canadian Heritage, said this month at the Banff World Media Festival that “legislation modernising Canada’s Broadcasting System will be tabled in Parliament in the fall when the Liberal government also intends to introduce legislation requiring Alphabet (Google) and Facebook to compensate news organisations for using their content.”

Google to pay some news publishers 

In other recent news, Google announced it would begin licensing news content for some publishers. According to The Wall Street Journal, initial participants include Germany’s Spiegel Group, publisher of Der Spiegel; Brazilian media company Diarios Associados; and Solstice Media, the publisher of local newspapers in Australia. More countries will be added over time, the company said.

The blog post announcement, penned by Google’s Brad Bender, vice president of product management/news, said the programme will pay for “high-quality content for a new news experience launching later this year.” Bender said, “Where available, Google will also offer to pay for free access for users to read paywalled articles on a publisher’s site.”

The new product will launch first on Google News and Discover.

The New York Times announced Monday it would no longer partner with Apple News.
The New York Times announced Monday it would no longer partner with Apple News.

New York Times pulling out of Apple News 

Although The New York Times only displayed a few stories a day on Apple News, it is big news among publishers that it has pulled out of its agreement with that digital platform, saying that its “relationship with Apple News does not fit” its parameters for its relationships with its readers, reported Nieman Lab. 

“It’s time to re-examine all of our relationships with the big platforms,” New York Times COO Meredith Levien told Nieman’s Ken Doctor. “And we’re re-examining them on three axes that are all interrelated, but different with each of the players.” 

Her three questions, according to Doctor: 

  1. “What role does the company play in helping bring audiences to the Times? Or said more technically, what role do they play in that funnel?”
  2. “What role does this company play in helping us do the main thing that we’re trying to do? Which is scale direct relationships with people and get them to form a habit and ultimately pay.”
  3. “What’s the value equation ... recognising that these companies get substantial value from our investment in original journalism?”

“That doesn’t mean we don’t need distribution partners – we certainly do. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to find the outlets for our content that help us build audience. But I think that the equation for how we evaluate them changes,” Levien continued.

Apple said in a statement it does not expect a noticeable change in what readers see.

Facebook changing News Feed algorithm to favour original reporting

Axios reported that Facebook will change its News Feed algorithms as a result of talks with news media executives that have helped it define and find ways to boost original reporting. 

Facebook is responding to long-time news media criticisms by prioritising original reporting and demoting stories that “aren’t transparent about who has written them.” Facebook will use AI both to identify which stories will be promoted by analysing groups of stories about the same topic to identify those most often cited as the original source.

Banner image courtesy of S. Hermann & F. Richter and PhotoMIX from Pixabay.

About L. Carol Christopher

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