Newspapers Fight Back Against Search Engines - InformationWeek

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Newspapers Fight Back Against Search Engines

An international group of publishers is exploring options, including collective action at either a national or international level, for enforcing copyright and preventing search engines from taking their content for free.

A task force of global and European publishers has agreed to examine ways to receive payment from Internet search engines and news aggregators that the group claims are making money by taking someone else's content for free.

Led by the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers, the group of newspaper, magazine and book publishers are hoping to write standards and policies that define the commercial relationship between publishers and search engines, such as Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc., and content aggregators.

The task force also is exploring options, including collective action at either a national or international level, for enforcing copyright and preventing brand infringement, the group said. Among its first steps would be to meet with Charlie McCreevy, European Union commissioner for the internal market and services; and Viviane Reding, the commissioner for information society and media.

"The search engines are increasingly aiming their strategic efforts at traditional content originators and aggregators like newspaper publishers," Gavin O'Reilly, WAN president and chairman of the task force, said in a statement released Tuesday. "The irony is that these search engines exist, largely, because of the traditional news and content aggregators and profit at their expense."

O'Reilly compared search engines to Napster, a file-sharing service provider that was forced to change its business operation several years ago by a music industry lawsuit that objected to Napster allowing users to share songs for free.

"Google, Yahoo and other search engines are not some new breed of social benefactors of information -- they are assuredly commercial, very-much-for-profit organizations and not the new Robin Hoods," O'Reilly said.

Many newspapers in the United States has seen significant drops in readership as more people turn to the Web for daily news.

Web site traffic, however, increased in October 2005 by 11 percent from a year ago, to 39.3 million unique visitors, Nielsen/NetRatings said. The numbers indicated that traditional media is alive on the Internet, despite declining readership offline.

Besides search engine use of publishers' content, WAN said it was also "extremely concerned" with the actions taken by Internet companies when faced with censorship demands by repressive governments, O'Reilly said.

Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp., which owns the MSN portal, have said they would block information on their search engines that governments deemed were inappropriate based on local laws. Search engines have dealt with such restrictions in the communist nation of China, as well as democracies such as France and Germany.

Google is facing in the United States a lawsuit filed in October 2005 by major book publishers, which object to the search engine digitizing and storing library books without the permission of copyright holders.

The French news agency Agence France-Presse sued Google in March 2005 for taking photos and stories from AFP subscribers' Web sites and offering them to Google users. That case is pending.

The first meeting of the task force included representatives of WAN, the World Editors Forum, the International Publishers Association, the International Federation of the Periodical Press, the European Federation of Magazine Publishers, the European Publishers Council, the European Magazine Publishers Association, AFP and several French organizations.

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