Google News: The End of News Indexing As We Know It?

googlenews.pngScotland’s Sunday Herald is running a story reporting that Google has secretly reached deals with several large UK news groups to formally license content for Google News.

The report notes that the deals are being kept secret to prevent other media sites asking for a similar deal from Google.

I’ve always bought Google’s defense that Google News drives traffic to other news sites and that linking to external headlines and providing a snippet of the news story constitute fair use. Google lost that argument in Belgium and it would appear now that it no longer believes its previous position is sustainable in the United Kingdom, possibly even worldwide.

Google has argued that as they do not run ads on Google News, they don’t profit from it and morally this holds them in a superior position. Yet if Google is forced to sign deals to provide links and traffic to media outlets, is Google News sustainable in its current format?

It’s a catch 22. If Google starts running ads on Google News now it would only strength the case of those media companies arguing that Google News infringes on copyright. And yet already the cost of these deals will be driving up costs for Google. Google will want to find a way to recoup these costs without having to pay thousands of additional media outlets for the right to syndicate content.

The issue is not Google’s alone. In theory any site that indexes and provides snippets of content from big media companies could easily face the same problem. Topix and Digg immediately come to mind, let alone the many smaller startups and personal sites that index news from the mainstream media.

Fair use provisions are stronger under US law than in Europe so it may remain primarily a European issue at this time. However with a growing number of media companies challenging Google over copyright on YouTube, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that Google News could be next, and there is a precedent. Google has already signed a deal with Associated Press in the US to syndicate content on Google News, a perfect argument for others seeking a similar deal or looking to challenge Google on the legality of Google News indexing and providing snippets of their content.