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Let's play a new game. On the count of three, you hold out either a flat hand (paper), a clenched fist (rock), or a curled hand in the form of a big G -- that last one representing Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) .
The rules are simple:
- Rock beats paper, since evolutionary events have rocked the print publishing industry.
- Google beats rock, as online substitutes gain on worldly charms.
- ... Wait, does that mean that paper beats Google?
A tersely worded press release from The Associated Press yesterday seems to imply so. "We can no longer stand by and watch others walk off with our work under misguided legal theories," said AP Chairman Dean Singleton in the release.
Smelling trouble, Google's legal team fired back this morning. Since the AP release didn't single out Google by name, Big G aims to preemptively exclude itself from the crosshairs.
"It doesn't appear to pertain to Google since we host those articles in partnership with the AP," claimed Alexander Macgillivray, Google's associate general counsel for products and intellectual property.
So what's the problem?
Naturally, the AP won't police Google-hosted AP articles that are part of a licensing deal. The real knocks hurled at Google from old-school media heavies, including Bill Keller from New York Times Co. (NYSE: NYT ) , involve the search engine's practice of using headlines, thumbnails, and even a few article lines to populate its Google News site.
Google claims that its usage falls under the "fair use" doctrine of the country's copyright laws, but somehow, several news organizations feel that Google is wrong to promote (and potentially profit from) stories it did not actually report.
In other words, newspaper companies aren't just looking a gift horse in the mouth. They also want to excavate some of its gold fillings.
I find their complaints ridiculous. Google sends free traffic to cash-starved newspaper sites -- more than a billion clicks a month, according to Macgillivray -- and that's not enough? Google's AdSense program delivers millions of dollars to newspaper companies that can't effectively sell ads on their own sites, and thus opt for monetization programs offered by Google, Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) , and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) . Yet the paper companies still bellyache?
Google's not some greedy interloper, wedging interstitial ads before ushering users on to a desired article. It's actually not in Google's best interest to distract users with an entirely new story instead of following through on a paid-search ad click.
What do newspapers want? No one is forcing anyone to go to Google for their news. If Internet users flock to Google News, it's only because a single media site doesn't fill their needs. The newspapers point the collective finger at Google because the search giant is a convenient target with even more convenient billions in the bank. But in pursuing such short-sighted, counterintuitive attacks, the newspaper industry is only killing itself.
In the end, it seems, rock beats paper, Google beats rock, and paper ... beats paper, too.
Other ways to approach Big G: