Google vs. Murdoch: Who’s “Being Evil”?

Question: What do you see as the major sources of tension between Google News and its critics?

Josh Cohen: Sure. I mean, I think there are a couple of things. One is something that we certainly -- everybody sees it -- there's just been a tremendous amount of upheaval in the news space, and beyond just sort of the news space, in content creation overall. I mean, the Internet has been really just a phenomenal thing. I don't think anybody would argue that the Internet hasn't brought this great opportunity for users to get new information from so many different sources in so many different ways, and really to own that experience and be much more in control of what they read and where they read it from. But that has meant a significant change to the business model. So if you look at a -- in the past, if you had a local newspaper, that was your one source for information. If you -- Buffalo News, for example -- if I wanted to get information about Buffalo, sure, that was my key source. If I wanted information about wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that was my source. If I wanted to know what was going on in Washington about the debate over -- about health care overhaul -- again, Buffalo News was my source for all that information. 

Online, it's so easy to navigate to so many different sources that you no longer have that stranglehold on information. And I think everybody would argue that that's a tremendous thing for the end users, but it's a challenge for the business model. You no longer have that sort of local monopoly. So that's one thing I think that just -- Google sometimes becomes synonymous with the Internet, in good ways and in bad ways, so anything good that happens with the Internet, that's Google. And anything bad that happens because of the Internet, that's Google as well. So I think part of it is just that: I mean, we are associated with some of that disruption. So I think that's part of it. The other is this sense that Google gets value from indexing the content. And in that case, I think everybody at Google would agree 100 percent: there's no doubt that Google receives value from our ability to index high-quality information on the Web, whether it's news or otherwise. If there's not high-quality information on the Web, not much to search for. So we definitely receive value from that, and I don't think that's in dispute.

But I think the part where there sometimes is a disconnect, which is the value that we deliver back to publishers. While we do get value from indexing, it's to help people find that information. So we in turn drive -- again, you know, the traffic that I talked about going off to publishers -- there is significant value that we deliver to publishers, and that's not even getting into the different tools that we have available to help them make a better Web site, things like Google Maps or YouTubes, where they can leverage our technology to make for a better Web site; and obviously the whole part of our business that deals with helping them monetize it, whether it's things like AdSense, contextual advertisements or double-click, which is ad-serving technology. So not even touching those business relationships, there is value that Google receives, but there's also a significant amount that we deliver back to publishers.

Question: Is there any legitimacy to Rupert Murdoch’s argument that Google is stealing from him?

Josh Cohen: I think there are a couple of things. I mean, some of the issues that I was just talking about, just the general challenges of a changing business model. But as I said, I think that we do deliver value back to publishers, but as far as whether it's legal or not, we respect copyright law. And you know, if we -- we show no more than a headline or snippets, sort of what's sort of considered fair use, but it's sort of -- it's not even a legal debate, because there's no -- we don't force any publisher to give us their content. So in the case of a publisher who, you know, decided they wanted to put content on the Web but didn't want Google to crawl it, that's very easy to do. You can do that either by contacting us or simply but putting a bit of code on the page. There's something called robots.txt, which is -- at its most extreme says do not crawl this site at all. And you can direct that to specific search engines; you can say I want Yahoo! to crawl this, but I don't want Google to crawl this.

But there's also a number of different fine-grain controls that publishers have within a broader protocol that's called Robots Exclusion Protocol, that allows you to say I want you to crawl this, but I don't want you to show any images; or I want you to crawl this, but I don't want you to show snippets. That's too much; I only want you to show a headline. So there's a range of controls that publishers have. So you know, I'm probably not the right person to get into the legal debate and the ins and outs of fair use, other than to say that we respect copyright law. But there's -- it doesn't even need to be at that stage, because if publishers don't want us to index their information, and don't feel that we're delivering value to them, they're in complete control about whether or not we're able to index it. They're in complete control about whether or not they want to charge for that information or not.

Or is neither side in the wrong? A Google News exec fields the most common criticisms leveled at his company.

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