Dysmey Post > Essays > Politics > The Google/AP Spat

The Google/AP Spat

This essay quotes from the following sites:

Google is in a catfight with the Associated Press over the latter's claim of loss revenue due to news aggregators, especially Google News. AP is demanding, under threat of litigation, that Google share its boundless sea of moolah with it.

As an afterthought is the tendency of Slashdotters to come up with Easy Steps™ on how to transform folly into profit. The latest examples are here:

  1. Tell someone a story.
  2. Wait till he tells the same story to someone else.
  3. Sue.

A great plan indeed. I can't foresee any way it may fail.

And, here, a practical application to the AP.

  1. Refuse to let Google and other search engines index your stories
  2. Google removes all newspapers with AP content from its indexing
  3. Newspapers, with falling print sales and no Google presence, go out of business
  4. No one left to buy AP stories
  5. Profit!

Step #5 is where the miracle occurs which will save the newspaper industry, like something you see on the Hallmark cable network.

As if he had read this list, Google's chief replied that if the AP and the newspapers keep bitching about their customers using Google News and other aggregates, the customers will simply go away.

One Slashdotter claims that Google is being naïve. I do not see it that way.

Google needs them just as much as they need Google.

No, Goggle does not. Google is primarily a search engine, whose ads on results make most of its profits. Among the hundreds of millions of Web pages and thousands of sites out there, there are bound to enough sites both useful and popular to make Google enough of a profit to afford the loss of a sideline or two. And Google News is just a sideline.

[Google] are a bit green in the ears when it comes to politics.

Green? It is hard for AP to play ball with Google when Google owns the baseball diamond. All Google has to do is remove all AP articles from News, as YouTube has removed all music video access to Britain, and then wait for the pain on the AP side to become intolerable. There is no naïvité in that tactic.

Well, I should have said YouTube blocked music videos from its site in Britain, just as it did the same in Germany. Google did both because the music licensing bureaus in each country (PRS in Britain) demanded more money than YouTube could make a profit from showing the videos. Also, YouTube exists from the start to show amateur (and really, painfully amateur) videos, all for free. Because of this, Google would have a very tough time trying to show commercial music videos for profit, especially if the ads do not make up for the cost.

Back to the topic of the AP, it could simply fall back on Yahoo! News. The problem with that is that Yahoo! does not have the heft that Google has, plus that Google has more reach than Yahoo!, plus that Yahoo! has Microsoft hovering over it like a vulture over a carcass. Does the AP really want to be around when the feeding begins?

The guy I responded to still thinks it's all politics, damning as naïvité the other Slashdotters' suggestion to the AP to fix its robots.txt file like this:

    User-agent: *
    Disallow: /

This effectively screens out all spiders and other Web crawlers, including Google. Now the papers don't have anything to complain about.

These days, politics is a buzzword, anyway: A label used to slap on something that someone does not like, just like It's unjust! really means I don't like it! Therefore I can only assume that the guy does not like Google. Google-bashers are a common lot, now that Google has gotten so big, so rich, so pleasant for those who work there, and so comfortably numb to the messes it makes (such a pity, Jaiku).

In fact the Google/AP is more like a sociological phenomenon, in which a now-dominant entity holds it over a has-been which realizes that something is wrong, that the dominant entity is somehow responsible, and that is vying to hold on to what has gone from it.

There was a time when only the Birchers, the Communists, and the other fringe monkeys complained about the power of the Associated Press to determine what is news and what is not. Now that power is in the hands of the blogs, the news aggregators and Google; and it is the Associated Press that is doing the bitching. What makes it worse for AP is that it is displaying schizophrenia when it comes to sharing its stuff with its affiliates.

Remember, also, that the Associated Press is a news aggregator itself, dependent on member newspapers (which pay for the privilege) for its articles. Those papers could just as well post their news online and let Google aggregate their articles without having to pay the AP. That is why the AP is griping.

BTW, another take on the Google/AP whinefest is this posting in TechDirt, in which the Associated Press is taken to task for blaming Google for its own screwups. Actually, that posting is based on this posting, whose author actually begs newspapers to shield themselves from Google for a week just to see his predictions come true: That their traffic will dry up. Amazingly, this guy was a reporter for a Southern California newspaper until the mid-1990's, when he quit upon realizing that the Web was the way to go for news and his colleagues were still discussing — (wait for it) — Prodigy!

I will never forget being in a conference room at the Orange County Register when it was being debated whether the paper should go to CompuServe, AOL, MSN or freaking Prodigy. Prodigy! And I had SEEN THE WEB, and I knew that's where things were going — so I got out. And since then, I've watched the papers fumble along.

Finally, Ars Technica has weighed in on the fight with a balanced summary of the conflict between Google and the newspaper guild in general and AP in particular. L'Ars can see that everyone is soiling their pants in rage, but cannot seem to determine why. But it is not hard to see why. Newspaper people, like other Americans raised in cities and suburbs and holding college degrees, are people without chests, without the grounded sentiments that serve as a link between their brains and their bellies, between their reason and their feelings. It does not matter whether a reporter or a newspaper owner knows in their head why their paper is in serious trouble, and that attacking the aggregates verbally or litigationally is as counterproductive as the music industry's lawsuits have been. The paper IS in TROUBLE — and they must SCREAM.

You would think that hackers would be more sympathetic for such a First-Amendment institution as the press. But the press has been abusing hackerdom for nearly thirty years, especially in using the very name hacker for computer/network criminal — a usage that has leaked into other languages like Japanese. To real hackers, who have used the word for a lot longer, it means a most proficient and skilful artificer of code. Hackers have complained about the abuse of their name in the press; now that the press is getting its ass kicked by the very engines of hackerdom, hackers are, well, not very quietly enjoying the irony.

update (18 july 2009)

I thought that I would throw this link to a Techdirt entry that pretty much sums up the attitude of the big newspaper chains to the Internet. They remember when newspapers were the only source of news; infer the wrong conclusions from their memories; and want to set up their Web sites to function like it was back then. The problem is that it will fail miserably. People can get news from other sources nowadays, or simply ignore the news entirely.

That is what is happening with me concerning the Marion, Indiana Chronicle-Tribune. Early this year the newspaper put a paywall up on its Web site, so that only its home page was visible. Supposedly all I had to do was pay $30/year or (as I was a subscriber to its paper edition on weekends) use a username and password. But why? I decided instead to just avoid the site and remove its link from my Web site. As far as I am concerned, the Chronicle-Tribune is no longer on the Internet.

Update (29 july 2009)

I have one more thing to add to my essay about the dispute between the Associated Press and the Internet in general. The AP announced plans to rig its news stories with some kind of digital-rights management to keep parasites from using them for their own profit.

The problem is that the details are befuddled and contradictory. Even the AP graphic displayed by the Ars article is deceptive. Using a "microformat" (hNews) does not convey digital rights management unless you intent to alter the microformat into something it is not. AP does not seem capable of doing this, since it (like journalists in general) has already displayed remarkable ignorance of how the Internet and the Web work.

The problem gets worse when it is reported that the AP now refuses to talk any further about its digital-rights scheme. That is an odd position to take for a bunch of journalists. I thought journalists want debate. Maybe, they want the debate on their own terms, but even I know that is not how debate works.

Anyway, when you add the AP's claim that any use of its content is copyright infringement liable to litigation, and then its contradictory claim that bloggers have nothing to worry about, then you have a screwed-up organization whose aims will at best isolate it from the Internet and at worse damage the Internet in its attempt to keep itself alive. Worse for AP, the wallowing in its own poo will make competitors like Reuters, who themselves have no problem with the Internet, come out clean.

It is best to steer completely away from any content from the Associated Press. If you have Firefox, it is not hard to do: I have found that the LeechBlock add-on works well in blocking any site within the domain ap.org.

update (26 january 2010)

Google has called the bluff of the Associated Press, having ceased to include its articles in Google News. Also, all links to articles by the Associated Press in Wikipedia are now dead.

No matter what happens next, the issue is finished as far as I am concerned, and this will be the last update.


I put the description for hNews in quotes because, though it is technically a microformat, it is not found on the Microformats site. hNews is derived from hAtom, and uses hCard and geo, all from Microformats. The problem for hNews here is that hAtom and geo are drafts; until their specifications become stable, the two microformats could change at any time. Microformats warns of this plainly: The stability of these documents cannot be guaranteed, and implementers should be prepared to keep abreast of future developments and changes..

Given this, the AP could find itself in a situation where hNews development freezes while hAtom and geo develop along. This could make hNews incompatible with any browser that can read microformats.

The hNews summary (striped of all links) is as follows:

hNews is a microformat for news content. hNews extends hAtom, introducing a number of fields that more completely describe a journalistic work. hNews also introduces two other microformat drafts, hRights (a microformat that describes ccREL statements), and rel-principles (a microformat that describes the journalistic principles upheld by the journalist or news organization that has published the news item).

Does anyone want to bet that hRights, rel-principles and anything else in hNews makes it into Firefox, Opera or Safari? It certainly will not make it into Internet Explorer given Microsoft's impermeability to change in the face of pressure groups and governments.

Written by Andy West on 10 April 2009. Updated 6 April 2010.