Wednesday, February 14, 2007

So Sue Me: Google Loses Suit But Claims No Harm

Reuters reports along with others on a Belgian court's ruling in favor of Copiepresse's complaint against Google's crawling of Belgian, French and German newspaper content without their prior consent. The court reduced potential penalties should Google pursue caching of content from these publishers. Some may claim that this is a major setback for Google and search engines, but Google claims on its corporate weblog that it's largely a moot judgment. Google removed the content in question from its indexes months ago and has had success gaining coverage from other news sources in European markets eager to have their content crawled. In other words, Google intends to hang tough rather than to give into every publisher who wants to rattle their saber over Web crawling methods that have been in place for more than a decade.

This seems to make sense, as the real issue is whether or how publishers would license their content to Google for crawling. As with the AFP/AFX suit against Google in U.S. courts the tactic of taking Google to court is more about trying to gain some leverage in licensing negotiations. From that perspective, the Belgian court decision would seem to be a huge loss for publishers who thought that they could force Google's hand prior to a court's judgment. The truth of the matter is that many publishers don't have the foggiest notion of what the monetary value of exposure of their content in Google would be and therefore would rather chance a suit that would allow them to see what is comfortable to Google. This seems terribly bass-ackwards; why not just come up with a little research to determine that value and enter into earnest negotiations from that starting point? Google's "crawl first, ask questions later" policy may be flawed, but the technical control to prevent search crawlers from entering a Web site have been around for more than a decade. It's time for publishers to stop playing games and to take a more serious look at Google as a business partner that can deliver good value from their services - if you have a good handle on the metrics needed to prove out that value.
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