Google News Changes Rules to Pacify Publishers

Google has decided to limit the amount of copyrighted material owned by publishers that it gives away for free in an attempt to placate publishers who are, understandably, not happy with the situation. Previously, Google would offer for free content a publisher wanted to gate and charge for.

Google in essence forbade publishers for charging for their content when users came to that content via Google News. If a user found an article on Google News and clicked on it, the publisher could not direct the user to a "pay for this first" screen. Instead, Google gave searchers the full article via its "First Click Free" program. Google would show the whole article, but those visiting the publisher's Web site directly would have to pay for it to see it. Google called the practice of hiding an article behind a plea for money "cloaking" and would not honor it.

Publishers were getting ticked off about it, and threatened to limit the amount of material they would allow Google to crawl. Google tried to explain to the publishers that it wasn't hurting their business -- but helping them -- by sending them tons of referral traffic. While that may be the case, I'd still rather see the publishers be in a position to decide if they want to charge for the content they paid to develop and host on their sites, rather than a search engine.

But on Tuesday, Google backed off a little. It will now only give away five full-text articles per Google News visitor per day. I'm not sure what gives Google the right to give away any articles.

According to an article from IDG News Service, Google will implement a few other rules, too. Google has agreed to crawl and index the "preview" pages which show headlines and a few paragraphs before they ask for money, and add a label "subscription" warning readers that they can't get the full story through the link. Google has decided that this is not "cloaking" in that the crawler and the reader will see the same material via Google News as they would if they went to the publisher's own page. The story notes:

"It remains to be seen if Google's new approach will temper some of the hostility of publishers. News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch recently said he was considering not allowing Google to index any of the company's publications, which include The Wall Street Journal and The Times. It was rumored News Corp. was working a deal to only allow Microsoft's new search engine, Bing, to show the content."

Charging readers a subscription to see material is an old idea that hasn't worked successfully for most publications. But it should still be up to the publisher to decide its business model, not a search engine, particularly when that search engine makes all of its money from advertising, as the publisher does. That's the definition of conflict-of-interest.

Disclaimer: I earn my living from a publisher who pays me to write and edit articles, so I'm biased on behalf of the publishers.

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