French News Agency Sues Google News

French news agency Agence France Presse has sued Google, alleging the Web search leader includes AFP’s photos, news headlines and stories on its news site without permission (read AFP’s copyright notice here). The French news service is seeking damages of at least $17.5 million and an order barring Google News from displaying AFP photographs, news headlines or story leads. AFP’s charge:

Without AFP’s authorization, defendant is continuously and willfully reproducing and publicly displaying AFP’s photographs, headlines and story leads on its Google News web pages.

Google’s response:

“We allow publishers to opt out of Google News but most publishers want to be included because they believe it is a benefit to them and to their readers,” Google spokesman Steve Langdon said of the AFP lawsuit.

This seems to come down to the delicate balance of whether news agencies should welcome the aggregation and distribution of their content via Google News (thereby driving traffic to their sites), or be angered that Google is appropriating the agencies’ content without permission or compensation. In this particular case, if AFP didn’t want that content to be publically available, they shouldn’t put it on their public web servers accessible by Google’s bots. Also, there doesn’t appear to be any material “damage” to AFP, since Google News only provides exerpts of stories, and a reader would have to click through to AFP to read the full text, allowing AFP to cross-sell or otherwise generate revenue from that site visit. Further, as of now, Google News does not feature advertising, so an argument could be made that Google does not profit from their news aggregation (Google News remains in “beta”). (Of course, Google hopes that users of Google News will migrate to other Google services which are profit centers for them.) On the other hand, AFP is a news agency, and only those who contract with them and pay some type of subscription fee are supposed to be allowed to provide their content to readers. Whether Google News, as an aggregator, violates this copyright will remain an interesting case to follow.

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