As you will no doubt be aware, Google have released an RSS and Atom service that outputs any Google News search or subject listing in RSS or Atom format. This is achieved by adding &output=rss or &output=atom.
The feeds themselves include a Google-produced summary (usually ignoring the provider’s summary) and the image associated with that story, not forgetting the obligatory headline and link to the story.
In addition to making this service available for newsreaders, Google have also created a licence to allow end-users to reproduce the RSS and Atom feeds on their own websites.
All well and good I guess. Except there are two potential issues here:
- Most news providers have their own RSS terms and conditions, which may differ from the Google News RSS licence
- The images included with the stories are usually agency stills (AP, Reuters, Getty,etc). These agencies exercise strict controls over the reproduction of their images and it’s not clear how Google can be in a position to sub-licence their reproduction on third party sites.
So, a news provider might release a licence to accompany the RSS feeds made available from their site.
That licence may include a definition of what types of sites can and can’t reproduce the news contained within the feeds. Political, pro-terrorism, and pornographic websites are all examples one could easily expect to fall in this category.
An end user could use that modifier to create a feed of stories from a single news provider, via the Google News RSS service, and include it on their site under the authority of the Google News RSS licence.
That licence is going to be different to the original news provider’s licence which would have come into play if those same stories were sourced from the news provider directly.
In fact the Google licence will probably be less restrictive than the original news provider’s licence because Google are working to a different dynamic to most news providers. Google want as many people to see their feed, whereas a news agency may wish to protect its brand by restricting who can take their feed.
And if individual news providers were able to successfully negotiate with Google that their own terms and conditions must prevail in any resyndication of their stories, how would that work in a normal situation where multiple news stories are returned in a single feed?
Finally, there’s an issue of warranty and feed integrity. It’s likely Google will include advertising in their Google News RSS/Atom feeds at some point in the future (to pay for the service).
Regardless of whether the original news provider is interested in also providing advertising in their direct feeds or not, this is an issue. Commercial news providers will be missing out on potential advertising revenue being leveraged on their content, and non-commercial news providers might feel their position is being compromised.
Agency photo reproduction
Perhaps the biggest issue of all, however, are the images contained in the Google News RSS feed.
Most news providers don’t actually own the stills they use in their articles. In most cases they have deals with the agencies such as AP, Reuters and Getty, to reproduce stills on their respective sites (and only their site).
When Google News first went live, many were surprised that Google were reproducing licensed images on their site – without holding a licence directly with the agencies. I guess Google’s interpretation is that it’s “fair use”. AFP doesn’t agree, however.
The big issue here is that those images are now being redistributed by Google for reproduction on non-commercial third party websites.
It would be impossible for Google to have an agreement in place with every picture agency and so it can only be assumed that, once again, Google are arguing that this is fair use of the images.
It’s likely that the picture agencies themselves will think otherwise – they make money from licensing stills. (I would argue it’s unlikely they would be missing out on much business from “non-commercial” use, but they would probably feel their position is being compromised none-the-less).
There is another issue here, too: exclusives.
What if a rights holder signs an exclusive, ‘one-time use’ licence with a newspaper for a set of photographs? That newspaper might publish the photos to their websites as part of the deal, but that might be the only place on the Internet licenced to reproduce the photos.
The Google News spider can’t know the rights on a given picture, so it would pick up the image in the same way it does for all images, making it available for reproducion on the Google News website.
Google would also make that image available for reproduction on third party sites via their RSS and Atom feed – potentially leaving the end-site owner liable for action to be taken against them by the newspaper, and the original rights holder of the photo. The claim would be that they had reproduced a still that Google wasn’t licensed to give them nor were they licensed to publish directly.
Who knows where this is all going to lead.
I would like to think that the reproduction of agency stills on “non-commercial” websites would be classed as ‘fair use’. The news provider who used it will have paid the agency for the image to be used in association with that story. Assuming that each image is being reproduced as part of the representation of the original news item it was syndicated with on the non-commercial third party site, then I feel that should constitute ‘fair use’.
(To give an example, I would hope a run down of the current news from CNN, with images, would be considered ‘fair use’ on a non commercial website. But a picture gallery of otherwise unconnected images, with no reference or link to the news stories they originally accompanied, could not be considered fair use.)
But that’s just my own view – as an individual, interested in promoting “open media” – and not in any other capacity or on behalf of any company or organisation. As always, the views I express on my blog are my own and not necessarily shared by my employer.