As previously reported, Google announced this week that it has reached an agreement with publishers in Belgium, ending six years of litigation. Publishers had sued Google claiming they violated copyright by displaying snippets in Google News and linking to cached copies of their pages in Google search. It's essentially the same argument many publishers have been making for years all over the world.
Now, however, Google has made an agreement which could have ramifications for how publishers in other countries proceed.
Google put out a blog post about the agreement, painting the whole thing as a win win situation, but it may not be that simple. While it may not have been as bad as it could have been for Google, it's likely a bigger win for publishers. Jeff John Roberts at PaidContent points to some other reports, raising a pretty interesting point. He writes:
Google’s announcement says the parties are “collaborating” to make money but also takes pains to note that “we are not paying the Belgian publishers or authors to include their content in our services”. Oh, really?
US press outlets have noted Google is paying all the legal fees but have generally framed the deal as a tie or a win for Google. The Europeans, however, have been less gracious. Le Monde‘s triumphant account begins by explaining that the Belgian papers “forced Google to bend” and that Google will “compensate” papers and journalists to the tune of “2 to 3 percent of sales” — or “around 5 million euros” ($6.5 million).
As he notes, it seems very likely that publishers in other countries who have been fighting similar battles (albeit not always in the same fashion) will pursue similar payoffs. Google, as it mentioned in its blog post, will also be advertising heavily on publishers' sites, giving them who knows how much more in revenue, though the company says publishers will also be using Google's ad products.
In the post, Google Belgium Managing Director Thierry Geerts said, "Many win-win ways exist for Google and publishers to join forces in the new digital universe. We drive traffic to publishers - four billion clicks a month around the globe, offering publishers 100,000 business opportunities per minute. Our AdSense program pays out $7 billion a year to web publishers worldwide. Publishers remain free, with the addition of just a few lines of code, to pull out of Google web search and Google News. Publishers also remain free to determine whether to put their articles discovered through Google search behind a paywall."
"Instead of continuing to argue over legal interpretations, we have agreed on the need to set aside past grievances in favour of collaboration," he added. "This is the same message we would like to send to other publishers around the world - its much more beneficial for us to work together than to fight." (Emphasis ours)
Google just may be sending a message to publishers indeed. It just might not be quite as rosy as the one painted in Google's announcement.