Content is the King. Or, to be socially correct, the Queen. Long Live the Content.
The recent deal between the Rupert Murdoch held News Corp, owners of The Wall Street Journal in the US to The Times in the UK, Sky News in Australia as well as 30 other publications, and the tech giant Google Inc. has proved it once again. The tech giant has reached an agreement with the News Corp to pay for the digital distribution of the publishing company’s news articles. Through this landmark deal, Google and other technology giants will have to start to compensate print and electronic media publishers for the use of their journalism.
Over the past years, Google and Facebook have freely distributed, without paying any royalty, news stories created and generated by newspapers, magazines and television worldwide despite a steep decline of income in the publishing industry, which has been ravaged by a loss of advertising revenue that instead have gone to Google, Facebook and other online sites. News moghul Murdoch has long believed that Google and other tech platforms were unfairly profiting from the work of professional journalists and news media publishers. The deal comes after years of public feuding between Rupert Murdoch and Google Inc., most recently in Australia. Google has also initiated efforts to secure deals with other major publishers in the U.K., Germany, Brazil and Argentina for distribution of news against payment.
Google’s deals with these news organisations to pay for exclusive content could set a justifiable precedent and open a Pandora’s Box of payment demands for proprietary content. This has the potential to change the dynamics of the Internet business models as well as the revenue models of the traditional news-media organisations.
This is a good initiative. It will end plagiarising – the use of proprietary content without the consent of or payment to the original news provider on the internet, which is currently rampant by the tech companies as well as individuals or organisations using the tech media’s platforms. This deal will also bring the focus back on the sale of personal data by social media companies. Remember the Cambridge Analytica controversy which had plagued Facebook. Further, it would help check the promotion of fake or altered news.
Whether text, video, animation, graphics or simply sound – news content is a huge business today. More so when the internet becoming a mainstay or pivot over print or traditional electronic media as the distribution channel. And, the aforesaid deal has the potential to completely change the dynamics of international web-based information sharing and payment systems.
Here are some of the possible interesting fallouts from this deal:
- What news organisations wanted was payment for substantiated information and data that they take a lot of pain in and spend a lot of money on creating and reporting. All that effort can disappear in a whiff, if Google web crawlers, helped by AI-based algorithms, can place data on the web. This deal should allow journalists to earn a living wage and help news organisations prop up their failing revenue. The tech and social media companies distributing news using the internet will have to make a payment, site source of all news henceforth and can prevent any user (individuals and companies) who try to post doctored and unsubstantiated news or proprietary information without consent over authenticated journalism.
- The other fallout would be payments that can be requested for Google-owned YouTube content. There are some very highly researched data-driven channels as well as entertainment channels available on YouTube that would qualify for Intellectual Property Right (IPR). In a new world, the creator of those can demand payment. It would be up to Google either to accept it or ask for a waiver, depending on the channel owner’s business motivation.
- Citizen journalism has grown across social media platforms and it, too, could easily qualify as IPR. Every bit of data of on consumer research, paid events by management bodies, performances by top rock bands, discourse by spiritual gurus will have the potential for being considered under IPR. And, such content generators could demand money for use of their voice, discourse, performance. Movie stars could demand clearance from their agents for use of their pictures and videos, even posted by their fans on social media platforms. And, it would be the responsibility of the tech media distributors to be vigil and make a payment or produce consent.
- It means no individual can post or tweet IPR content other than what is accepted by law. So far everyone was getting away with the IPR violation is social media, and in future that could definitely end. At least this News Corp and Google deal will ultimately push the world in that direction.
And, here are other implications:
Google’s shareholders will be crying foul over falling dividends, which may force Google to impose a small charge for each and every search. Even a minuscule fee charged by Google to its users will give it revenue in billions. How big is this? Google does not share the exact number of searches, but it sure handles an average of 3.8 million searches per minute worldwide. That is 228 million searches per hour, 5.6 billion searches per day, or 2 trillion searches per year! Do your calculation.
The other pain point on the horizon is in the form of the US Justice Department, which, in October last year sued Google for violating antitrust laws. The department had filed a complaint against Google to restore competition in search advertising market. This might force Google to abandon unlawfully maintaining monopoly through anticompetitive and exclusionary practices in the search and search advertising markets, and to remedy the competitive harms with the possibility of more search engines coming in to the fray.
- Stopping Google or even breaking up of the massive monolith could result in complete mayhem on the net. In the face of this threat, Google would be thinking twice about passing on the possible cost burden of paying for content, but a possible break-up could also rob the sheer power of its web crawlers from looking into the nooks and crannies of the World Wide Web. What that means is, if content in a Google search lacks the width and depth people have become used to, they will switch to the next best, possibly where the Microsoft Edge waits. The mass shift from the days of Netscape is yet to be forgotten.
Google has already done a deal in Europe, with reference to the ‘Right to be Forgotten’, though it has escaped a bigger fallout by maintaining that such links -that want permanent deletion – would not be visible in Europe, but would be available elsewhere. As far as China goes, Google has really not been able to make a dent in what could have been the world’s largest market.
- The issues are complex and interconnected. While the new deals with news organisations have been just about money, soon politics and international law will move in with a vengeance. And individuals and organisations have to adhere to IPR and other privacy laws while posting on social media rigorously.
- Google also has other problems. Google Earth is still the best we have about maps. However, the Indian government, under its atmanirbhar (self-reliant) programme, has recently set free the process of map-making and generation of geospatial data. This means that Indian private players will now have the freedom to handle such information without prior approval or restriction. Mapping has, so far, been a government preserve, handled by the Indian government’s Survey of India. Now any Indian entity can take part in the process and profit from it and provide Google map competition.
- For Facebook and its users, the issue is probably more complex. The allegation is that Facebook carries posts that have news links and news copied from official sites of newspapers. There are even pictures of clippings. If Facebook has to pay for these, the entire business model of the site developed through thousands of permutations and combinations could come apart. Today Facebook is not just about sharing pictures of your boyfriends and girlfriends or food or clothing preferences, it is also about important choices. Hence, another issue comes up from it. If you like an exclusive article in a newspaper you bought, could you be legally wrong in taking a picture of that article and sharing it with your Facebook friends, who could then share it further to their hundreds of friends? And, if the newspaper objects what would Facebook do?
In future, there could be no more ‘free lunch’ and posting of IPR content as per someone’s whims and fancies, especially by the individuals.
For communications and PR professionals, this is an interesting discussion to have.
*While writing the article the author has consulted the press announcement of the deal and certain analyses made by a few legal & consultancy firms.
The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.