The fireworks began right from the start of the final session of the 62nd World Newspaper Congress in Hyderabad. Titled 'What do we do about Google', the session aimed to explore solutions to the tensions brewing between the newspaper owners on one hand and the search engines on the other. Google, being the largest search engine globally, was at the centre of the storm.
Over the last three days of the conference, newspaper owners, across countries, lamented about how the Internet is not giving them the returns they expected. The bulk of the revenues go to the search engines, they complained. While they spend a lot of money creating the content, they lose out in the end. Demanding a greater degree of control over how their content is used, the world newspaper association asked Google to respect the copyright laws.
"Being able to make a commercial return is essential to justify investment in content, whether we are talking news, education or entertainment and that depends on having the mechanism to choose how that content is distributed, used and paid for," said Gavin O'Reilly, president, World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). However, at the same time, they admitted to not having put enough efforts to make the copyrights work properly on the web.
Google's chief attorney and senior vice-president David Drummond argued that his company never violated copyright laws and it will not be right to suggest that Google was the only cause of all the problems of the newspaper industry today. "This is not a question of Google not respecting copyright. This is a fundamental disagreement when you're applying copyright rules on the web," he said.
His company had, as recently as on Wednesday, allowed news sites to limit the number of free articles a person can browse on any site through Google, without being registered on the news site. A move interpreted by many as one to pacify the growing frustration among newspaper owners. News Corp chief Rupert Murdoch had earlier threatened to pull the content of all his websites out of Google.
Drummond said that in any case, a search result on Google or Google News only gives a headline or a single line description and then the Internet user is taken to the news site. Informing that the percentage of revenue earned from Google News comprised a very small portion of the overall revenue of Google, he added that online news publishers get a billion clicks a month from Google News and three billion more from the main search engine and iGoogle. However, he acknowledged that Google AdSense is probably not generating sufficient revenues for the publishing industry.
O'Reilly dismissed the figures for they do not translate into money for the companies. "Unfortunately, the pat answer always seems to be, 'don't complain aren't I giving you traffic?' As if I could take traffic to my bank manager," said O'Reilly.
Eric Schmidt, chief executive officer, Google wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal titled 'How Google can help newspapers', which was published, as per the WSJ website, on December 3, 2009 - the same day when the conference in Hyderabad was looking at ways to deal with Google! Interestingly, the wordings of what Schmidt wrote and what Drummond said were exactly similar.
The word 'help' has antagonised the paper owners. "I want to say that I am not advocating charity here. We publishers don't need hand outs or crumbs from Google's table," said O'Reilly. He called for adoption of the Automated Content Access Protocol (ACAP), a new protocol backed by WAN-IFRA and others in the industry that allows publishers to describe how their online content can be used in a way that the news aggregators' automated indexing crawlers can read.
The newspaper owners also felt that the existing Robots Exclusion Protocol (REP) does not do justice. Google, on the contrary, feels that REP works fine and emphasised that REP wasn't created by it.
Kees Spaan, president, Dutch Newspaper Publishers Association and chairperson, Copyright Working Party of the European Newspaper Publishers Association, and Dae-Whan Chang, chairperson, Maeil Business Newspaper and TV in Korea were among the other panellists who participated in the discussion.