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Google’s googlies

Publication Date : 02-07-2014


The legal action initiated last month by German publishers to force search engines such as Google to part with some of the advertisement revenue they earn when they republish their news content has wider ramifications for publishers around the world, including Asia and India.

While freethinkers have assailed any attempts to exercise control over content on the Internet, German publishers claim that under a law enacted last year in their country, which gives them exclusive rights over the content they put out except in the case of single words or short text snippets, they are entitled to compensation from Google.

The exception was allowed with a view to permit search engines to show small parts of articles without infringing on copyright. Publishers have also been locked in an anti-trust legislation against Google before the European Commission for more than three years where they argue that the American company is misusing its search monopoly by giving preferential treatment to its own services.

The European Newspaper Publishers’ Association and the European Magazine Media Association alleged earlier this year that Google’s “anti-competitive behaviour” will have a detrimental impact on the development and sustainability of the Press and the digital economy as a whole. It said Google’s practices would threaten press freedom, media plurality, diversity and citizens’ access to information.

The European anti-trust chief has been criticised for wanting to reach a compromise with Google, rather than hit it with a huge fine as publishers want, Joaquin Almunia was also on record this week as saying that he would investigate the American giant’s YouTube if he would see any attempt by the company to abuse its dominant position in online video searching.

Almunia has said the issue is whether to extend the ongoing case against Google on the basis of new complaints or to launch a new investigation.

Publishers around the world face the irony-dipped prospect of shrinking revenues even as they continue to be purveyors of content to the Internet, and especially search engines such as Google. It is necessary therefore for governments to step in - as the Germans already have, and other European countries are planning - to ensure publishers are compensated for third party use of the news they gather at considerable cost.

The curious paradox of the Net is that while some business practices may be legitimate in the jurisdictions where companies such as Google are based, their global reach opens them up to the prospect of dealing with regulators in individual countries.

India’s Ministry of Information Technology would do well to evaluate trends around the world and to frame policies that while allowing search engines to operate with reasonable freedom ensure they aren’t the only ones laughing their way to the bank on the back of content that others produce. 


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