Needling the Times’ noodling


Cue the world’s smallest violin, those crybabies at the Seattle Times are at it again, whining about Google making all the money off of their, um, meat:

When criticized for appropriating the work of others for its shelf, Google notes that Google News has only headlines and the first few lines of a story. To read the whole story, the reader has to click through to the newspaper, and then the traffic is the newspaper’s.

It sounds all so very fair. Google provides the bun and the newspaper provides the meat. But the result is that most of the money goes for the bun and not the meat. The bun people prosper and the meat people don’t.

First off, what a stupid metaphor, no doubt prompting many of us over the age of thirty to cry out “Where’s the beef?”


But poor choice of metaphor aside, it’s time for the Times to come clean about what it is arguing for: a wholesale rewriting of our copyright laws, and what does and does not constitute “fair use.” Think about it… if Google can’t reprint a headline, a link and a brief excerpt without permission, then neither can I, and if that sort of basic linkage can be broken without the express written approval of corporate lawyers then we’ll have cut the threads that tie together what we now call the world wide web. It’s both a selfish and self-destructive proposal that shows a totally lack of understanding of what makes the Internet useful.

It also completely misses the obvious reality that Google drives to the Times hundreds of thousands of readers a month who have no interest whatsoever in Seattle news and opinion, and who would otherwise never even know the paper existed, let alone read one of its articles. You’d think a company that makes its money selling ads at exorbitant prices would understand how this business works. The Times doesn’t sell content; like Google, it sells eyeballs, and that’s what advertisers are paying for. In that sense, it’s Google that is delivering the beef, not the Times. Indeed rather than demand that Google pay them for the privilege of driving them traffic, the Times should be damn thankful that they’re not being charged for inclusion in Google News.

There was a time when, if you were a local merchant looking to reach local customers, you had little choice but to pay the Times the asking price for that privilege, and the Blethen family grew fat off their near monopoly. But the Times delivered as promised, and if the merchant couldn’t figure out how to monetize these eyeballs and profit from their ads, well, that was their problem, not the Times’.

And that is the situation in which the Times finds itself today, with the glaring exception that they pay nothing for the valuable service that Google provides. How valuable? Note that the Times admits that it could ask to have its pages excluded from Google News, but it doesn’t want to be “cut off.” And with good reason, for without the traffic that Google drives their way, the Times’ claimed 1.7 million readers a month would surely dwindle to a mere few hundred thousand, and that would diminish the Times’ ability to deliver a valuable service to their real customers… their advertisers.


  1. 1

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    The funny thing about their whining is that most of the Times’ content these days is wire service stuff that you can read on countless other web sites who subscribe to the same wire services, and they really don’t have much meat of their own anymore.

  2. 2

    kirk91 spews:

    Not sure which whining is worse, the Times or Goldy’s.

    Wah wah ‘the Times has no readers’ wah wah but they ‘derailed Darcy Burner and won’t write about her’ snivel snivel.

  3. 3

    hmmmm spews:

    Is there a way for the Times to block clickthroughs from people entering through a Google link? Certinaly that would cause Google to discontinue putting the Times very high in the searches. There. problem solved for the Times. I dare them to implement it.

  4. 4

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    “Think about it… if Google can’t reprint a headline, a link and a brief excerpt without permission, then neither can I, and if that sort of basic linkage can be broken without the express written approval of corporate lawyers then we’ll have cut the threads that tie together what we now call the world wide web. It’s both a selfish and self-destructive proposal that shows a totally lack of understanding of what makes the Internet useful.”

    Nah, I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. If Fair Use ended, I would adapt. Instead of quoting from media sources, I would just paraphrase. I would post something like: “Media sources reported today that such-and-such.”

    But it’s a stupid position to take in response to their economic woes. Their real problem is new competition for ad revenues and an aging and inefficient technology for delivering content, not the limited “appropriation” of content that Fair Use allows. Readers still have to go to the original source if they want more information than a brief excerpt provides.

    When I write a Fair Use comment, all I’m doing is providing a very broad summary of what’s in the news article and maybe a teaser to encourage readers to go to the original source and read the whole article. And a link to get there quickly and conveniently. How is my steering people to the Times’ website hurting them?

    If there were no Google, they’d still have the same economic problems. The recession has curtailed ad spending by homesellers, car dealers, and employers. It’s that simple. Yes, they’ve been hurt some by new competition for classified advertising dollars from outfits like Craig’s List. But no business is guaranteed a market, or entitled to be free of competition. They need to adapt their business model to the changing world.

    Fair Use serves the very useful purpose of facilitating public discussion of public issues. It exists because the public interest in public discourse overrides copyright owners’ private interest in private profits. The law as it exists strikes a reasonable balance between public and private interests. Furthermore, as I explained above, doing away with Fair Use would not materially improve the economic situation of the Times and other publishers and content creators. All businesses have to evolve their business models and product lines over time, or go out of business. Some years ago, most afternoon newspapers changed to morning publication in order to survive, because of changing public reading habits. Now, the print mode of content delivery is itself in question, due to the advent of the internet. They need to spend their time and energy rethinking their business instead of splitting hairs about how much “fair use” the public should have.

    If they want to get really, really, really philosophical about who owns what … then maybe we could have a discussion about whether news organizations should continue to be allowed to publish photos of people and use their names in news stories without payment or permission. If I’m on a city bus and the bus hits a truck and I get hauled off to the hospital, and the Times publishes a picture of me being loaded into an ambulance on a stretcher and uses my name in the paper, then maybe I’d like the Times to pay me for the privilege of exploiting my injury for their profit.

  5. 5

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @2 “Not sure which whining is worse, the Times or Goldy’s.”

    That’s easy. It’s between you and the Times, with Goldy coming in a very distant third.

    However, I’d give the nod to the Times. They’re professionals. At whining, I mean. As a whiner, you’re only a clumsy amateur.

  6. 6

    xyz spews:

    Why is this fact never mentioned: Google DOES NOT SELL ADS against Google News. Go there now and look. There isn’t a single ad.
    Google is not making money off that project. The only ones who stand to profit are the link suppliers.

  7. 8

    kirk91 spews:

    5. Goldy a distant third in complaining? Hardly, that’s his only skill isn’t it? He wrote an initiative that complained about Eyman, complained that no one loved Darcy the way he did for 5 years, complained about the Times not hiring him, complains about the Times editorials, complained when he lost his job on the radio.

  8. 10



    “Wah wah ‘the Times has no readers’ wah wah”

    This is factually incorrect, as you would see by simply reading the post.

    “Goldy a distant third in complaining? Hardly, that’s his only skill isn’t it?”

    Many readers would attach other attributes to Goldy: entertaining, provocative, insightful, interesting, etc.

    That you only sense complaining yet, still, you read his commentary and contribute to the comment threads says a hell of a lot more about you than it does Goldy! You have my pity.

  9. 11

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @8 Gee, he complains like a Republican, doesn’t he? The difference is he’s much better informed and has something of substance to say.

  10. 12


    @3, yes, but they are pussies. They want the traffic and exposure (they run a banner of how many people click).
    ST could have its site removed from google news crawler.

    They should redirect people to the section the story is located in to gain add-eyeballs without completely shutting them out.

    The bigger issue is AP, and its agreement with google. AP used to redirect you to a newspaper with the story. That changed a couple years ago.

  11. 13


    The Times already syndicates headlines+snippets via RSS, which essentially provides the same function in an individual / individualizable fashion–though on a much smaller scale. Their RSS is (ad) free. Its only value is to direct readers to the site. Not only “where’s the beef,” but “what’s the difference?”

  12. 14

    rhp6033 spews:

    Of course, the Times’s real objection isn’t that Google is stealing it’s content. They know that Google is acting within the fair use exemption, and that they profit (indirectly) from Google’s traffic. And what’ probably more important, they really don’t want that to stop – their only hope of making money off the internet is to get more traffic that they can sell as “eyeballs” to their advertisers.

    But what they do want is to somehow try to get SOMEBODY to pay them money for it. They want to use their editorial bully-pulpit to drum up popular support for their lobbying efforts to change the laws so that Google has to pay them. Or just as good, for Google to pay them a lot of money just to settle all claims, with future payments for the right to continue linking to the site. They know that it’s a long shot, but they are hoping Google will pay them just to make them go away.

    In other words, it’s a corporate holdup. Pay us money, or we will have our lawyers/lobbyists beat you up.

    It’s a really stupid strategy with respect to Google. Google knows that if they cave in to the Seattle Times, everybody else will be lining up with their hands out, also. Not just news organizations, but everyone with a web site will be included in some lawyer’s class action suite which will be filed right after Google settles with the Times. Google has every motive to fight this one tooth and nail, and God knows, they certainly have a lot more money to fight this battle than the Times does.

    Besides, Google really does have all the cards – they can, as others have mentioned, simply stop linking to the Times. Then watch the Times start crying about how they ARE NOT using Times content!!!!!!

    I suspect that they will continue to make such noises, perhaps more desperate ones, as they slide into oblivion – which may come sooner than later.

  13. 15

    rhp6033 spews:

    If the Times calls me about my own website, demanding money for me linking to their stories, I intend to tell them (a) it’s Fair Use, (b) point out that legislation adopted ten or so years ago makes it just as illegal to make a false claim of copyright violation as it does to violate a copyright, (c) If they don’t charge me for linking to their site, I won’t charge them for sending traffic to their site.

  14. 16


    Limied free access is coming. It is becoming eisier to do.

    I guess ST has to figure out how to pay for printing wire service and “fair use” the headlines on its own web back to AP hosted and paid for on Google. That is the direction I would push a print publication. The online only sites need to stop repackaging AP and just link back (cuts both ways, google).