CS2101 - Should news agency ask Google to pay up?


Brazil’s National Association of Newspaper asks Google to pay up to post the headlines of their news articles. The NAN’s claim is that because Google currently uses the heading of the articles, and show the first few sentences, users are not as likely to click through to the new site itself, because they already have the gist of the article based on the snippet. Google’s view is that it has helped the agencies reach a bigger audience, and has not in fact reduced the visits to their sites.

French government also proposed a law that requires Google to pay when the French media appear in news searches.

And in Germany, the lower house has passed a bill requiring search engines to pay a license fee when re-posting content that is longer than “individual words or short exerpts”.

These three countries seem to be going against the tech giant, with the 2 agendas: protecting the copyright of published content, and encouraging users to visit their own news sites. Google’s general stand is not to pay, as it feels that it has helped direct more users to the news sites, and that extensive protection of copyright will threathen start-ups.

What I want to talk about here is whether the countries should ask for payments from Google.


The main groups of people involved here are the news agencies, the consumers (those who read the news), and Google. I will assume that as companies, thew news agencies and Google have profit-maximisation as one of their priorities. The agencies however have other goals, such as protecting their copyright, and delivering news to a big audience. Google’s other aim is to be the first stop for people reading news. The consumers have a much simpler goal, to read accurate and relevant news, at their convenience.

My view here is that by asking Google to pay up, the overall good experienced by the stakeholders decrease. First of all, the news agencies stand to gain. By collecting a license fee, their profits increase, and this has a multiplier effect; they will be able to hire better journalists, management, have better infrastructure, provide wider and deeper coverage etc. But all that is assuming that Google agrees to pay up. A different way that this situation can turn out is that Google refuses to pay. In this case, it is likely that the new agencies will suffer some consequences. UK paper The Times noted that 30 to 40 percent of their traffic was coming from search, and for other news agencies, the percentage is probably at that levels too. Hence when Google refuses, the agencies stand to lose that amount of traffic, and that is definitely harmful for them.

For Google, if they pay, they lose money. Depending on the amount that is to be paid, Google could lose quite a bit of money. This is because Google crawls and displays a huge amount of different news sites, and the number of users on Google’s services is immense. However if they don’t pay, their news aggregation offering will be limited. Consumers might see this as a reason to no longer use Google’s services, but jump directly to the news site. This is likely if the consumers are from within the country which news agencies are no longer re-published by Google. But I would think that this is unlikely to happen, as consumers can just turn to the many other snippets of news available from the many other agencies that Google is still tracking.

The happiness of the consumers is a bit more tricky to be calculated. Many consumers turn to Google because as an aggregator, it provides a huge variety of news, from different perspectives. The headline plus snippets combination also means that content is easily digestible. If we assume that the cost incurred by Google is not passed down to the consumers, the consumers will not feel it at all. They will still enjoy this free service like they always have. However this assumption will not likely stand as Google is not a charity. If Google refuses to pay, consumers will lose several avenues of information. And if they depended on those sources that are not cut off, it would be a loss for those consumers.

It seems like the Utilitarianism views are not helping much in this case, as it is hard to predict the way things will turn out, and also the costs and benefits to the stakeholders are not easy to quantify and measure.


If we universalize this case, it gets pretty extreme. Imagine if every company indexed by Google asks for payments, because a headline, or a title, or a snippet is re-published. Now we will not just be talking about Google, but about search engine in general, because they all do the same thing that the agencies are demanding license fees for.

Asking for payments will kill small start-ups in the field of search. It will kill innovation and will only allow the incumbent giants to thrive. In fact if license fees get large enough, even big companies will fall.

By asking for payments, agencies risk not getting included in search results. This is detrimental for consumers because it means that they do not get accurate and relevant results. The only results they get will be those that search engines do not have to pay to display.

This act is a selfish because companies only think about their own interests and copyright but fail to think of the human population as a whole.

Virtue Ethics

It seems like there is a conflict of values going on with the news agencies: on one hand they want to protect their copyright, on the other they want users on their sites and they know Google will affect that a lot.

On first look it seems to me like the agencies value the copyright more, which is why they went ahead with asking for payments. Perhaps they are also encouraged by the license deal Google struck with Agence France-Presse, and they hope to achieve both at the same time.

But from an outsider point of view, it seems like the motivation of the agencies are profits. Given the large amount of readership and exposure Google has brought to the new agencies, it is ironic that they still want Google to pay up. And why should copyright be protected by payments? The news agencies can just decline to be included in Google’s tracker, and that will safely avoid all copyright issues. The fact that they offered Google a choice to pay up clearly shows that they do not want to be left behind.

Closing thoughts

Analyzing the consequences proved to be too complicated for me, with the various branches that this action could result in. Universalizing this action shows us a radical side of things, where Google has to pay every company that appears in its search results. I also questioned the real intentions of asking for payments, and feel that it isn’t motivated purely by protecting copyright, but perhaps by profits.

In all I feel that asking for payments is a wrong move, and a short-sighted ones. If the agencies were really that particular about protecting copyright, there are other ways to do so besides asking for payments.