We were surprised last month to hear that Google had backed down in its dispute with news agency AFP, agreeing to pay up in order to link to AFP articles in Google News. As has been explained repeatedly, Google is increasing traffic and attention to their sites. That is, Google is doing them a huge favor (and considering how much search engine optimizers cost these days, it's saving them a lot of money too). If those newspapers are too braindead to figure out how to monetize that traffic, well, that's their problem. If they really want to punch the gift horse in the mouth, all they have to do is use a robots.txt file. Instead, however, after troubles in Belgium, Google started backing down... and that's resulted in a slippery slope. Suddenly, everyone wants their cut. That's why you hear all these stories from newspaper publishers whining about how Google is somehow "stealing" from them. They all know it's a negotiating tactic, and that Google has started to cave. With news leaking out that Google has now paid off a bunch of British newspapers as well, the pressure is only going to get stronger. Of course, the really sinister explanation that some are suggesting for this is that Google knows that it can afford to pay off these newspapers -- while not many other sites can. So, effectively, Google may be paying off these newspapers not because of real legal threats, but because it knows that the legal threats will be pointed instead to other competitive services who are less able to weather such legal challenges. This, apparently, is also the same deal that Google set up with music labels when it decided to buy YouTube. If true, this seems like a strategy that will come back to bite Google in the long term. Having to pay for permission to do things that are perfectly legal already is a dangerous precedent to set -- and it's one that Google will likely regret. Update: Google is denying this story.
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