Q&A On Google’s Belgium News Agreements

This week,
news emerged
about an agreement between Google and two Belgian author groups
that were suing it over copyright issues. Below, a short Q&A on what this means
for Google. Highlights: The case goes on with three other groups taking part,
but large damages seem unlikely. The new deal gives especially seems to give
Google photo rights. Google says it is not doing an about-face on opt-out in
Denmark. More about these an other issues covered below, based on a talk with
Google spokesperson Jessica Powell. Plus, some bonus stats on how much traffic
newspapers get from search engines.

Q. The case was originally filed against Google by
Copiepresse. What are the other
groups that joined and when did they come on?

A. In mid-October, Sofam,
Scam, SAJ 
and Assucopie all
joined the
case after Google
posted
the Belgian court ruling in late September.

Q. Who remains as part of the case?

A. Copiepresse, SAJ and Assucopie.

Q. Has Google paid any fines in the case so far?

A. Despite
rumors
, Google reiterated
again today
that it has not been asked to pay any fines.

Q. If Google loses the case, will it have to pay any damages?

A. Google says it hasn’t been asked to pay any fines.

Q. What do the new agreements with the author groups Sofam and Scam allow?

A. Sofam represents Belgian photographers while SCAM covers mainly
audio/video content. Exact uses are being worked out. As with the AP deal,
Google highlighted this as providing new uses rather than a solution to the
legal challenges over spidering and thumbnail image use. "It’s a way for us to
use their content in new ways beyond what copyright law currently allows us
without the permission of the authors," said Powell said.

Q. Was there a financial aspect to the agreement?

A. Google’s not commenting. Google is definitely paying the Associated Press
to use some of its content, as the AP itself has

reported
. However, the exact terms, mechanisms or amounts have never been
disclosed. Google wouldn’t get into specifics on the financial details on the
two Belgian deals other than to say these were deals that will allow the search
engine to use the content in new ways.

Q. Is Google talking with the other parties to the suit?

A. Google said it won’t comment on discussions but that it’s always open to
dialogue.

Q. Did Google reverse course and go opt-in for Google News Denmark?

A. Google says it chose to only launch in Sweden and Norway and that going
forward it is not planning on an opt-in model in Denmark or elsewhere. The
reason, says Powell, is that the company believes Google News complies with
copyright law. "If publishers don’t want their websites to appear in search
engines, robots.txt enables them to automatically prevent their content from
being indexed. And we even go beyond that: if a newspaper doesn’t want to be a
part of Google News, they only need to ask, and we remove them."

Between The Lines Time

The use of news images is one of the touchiest areas for Google to deal with,
as I covered more in my Search
Engines, Permissions & Moving Forward In Copyright Battles
article.

The Sofam deal might help solve some of Google’s legal issues in Belgium. The
group represents the rights of nearly 4,000 photographers in Belgium, Google
said. Google did NOT say how this might translate into usage at Google News.
However, potentially this means Google can have photos in Google News even from
publication that it had to
remove from
Google Belgium by court order. The Sofam deal might provide legal cover there.
Of course, if those publications are the only source of certain photos — and
they block use through systems like robots.txt — that would still keep the
content out of Google. I’m also following up more on this particular issue.

The deals do not restore access for Google to list textual news stories it
finds. That means it has to remain hopeful that the legal case will go its way,
if it wants to prevent some type of negotiations with the publishers that have
opted-out.

If the case goes against Google, it doesn’t appear to be facing in major
damages. If these were to be levied, that should have happened when it lost the
first time. Instead, the publishers will remain out of Google, making Google
News Belgium less useful than it would be. However, they also deny themselves
traffic from Google. Possibly Google might negotiate a payment-based system to
include them. Equally possible, it might also decide to hold its ground and
focus attention on other countries, to see if it can wait the publishers out.

If the case goes for Google, then it regain content that will help enhance
Google News Belgium, unless those publisher decide to specifically block
spidering, which Google would almost certainly honor.

Overall, the action in Belgium — as with Denmark — underscore that in
smaller markets, Google (and other search engines) may come under increasing
pressure to negotiate deals to list material. The players are fewer and have
more power concentrated among them. Whether these will be lucrative deals
remains to be seen. In smaller markets, Google might decide it’s simply not
worth figuring out some type of financial arrangement — especially for Google
News which carries no ads, so generates no direct revenue. That might bring
about more non-financial arrangements where the publishers cooperate for the
benefit of getting traffic and also being dealt with personally by Google,
rather than impersonally through automated permissions systems like robots.txt

Traffic To Search Engines

As an aside, I got a request from another reporter trying to understand how
much traffic newspapers get from search engines. My response:

There’s no specific answer to this. It will vary from paper to paper.
Places like the New York Times will likely get a lot, because they
specifically work to generate search traffic. Papers such as those suing
Google in Belgium are getting probably nil, since they were removed by court
order from Google.

In general, surveys have found sites getting anywhere from 8 to 13 percent
of traffic from search engines. That might not sound like much, but often the
first visit leads to repeat visits.

I also included two people on my response who I thought might have some
better stats. Marshall Simmonds, chief search strategist for the New York Times
Company, came back with this:

The one stat I can report is the NYT gets approximately 22% of its traffic
from search engines. This number is very actively growing.

Bill Tancer, over at
Hitwise, reported this:

Hitwise tracks 800,000 sites divided into 170 industry categories. One of
those categories is our News & Media – Print category which covers Newspaper and
Magazine websites (3,180 sites total). For the week ending 11/18/06 (based on
our U.S. sample), Google was the #1 site sending traffic to the category at
13.66%, Search Engines as a whole were responsible for 22.44% of traffic for
that same week.

That’s a lot of traffic, however you slice it. There’s no doubt things like
Google News help build Google up as a company. But at the same time, Google News
drives a ton of traffic to newspapers that are seeing the web as a new revenue
source that might save them as print subscriptions dry up.

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