Wall Street Journal, AP take aim at Google

Editor of the Journal says sites that aggregate news are "parasites" and says legal challenges are coming.

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
3 min read

Traditional media is once again rattling sabers in the direction of Google and other sites that aggregate news stories.

There's tough talk coming from managers at The Wall Street Journal and The Associated Press that include threats of legal challenges and even name calling.

"There is no doubt that certain Web sites are best described as parasites or tech tapeworms in the intestines of the Internet," Robert Thomson, the Journal's editor, was quoted in Australian newspaper The Australian on Monday. "It's certainly true that readers have been socialized--wrongly I believe--that much content should be free...And there is no doubt that's in the interest of aggregators like Google who have profited from that mistaken perception. And they have little incentive to recognize the value they are trading on that's created by others."

William Dean Singleton
William Dean Singleton Media News Group

Also on Monday, William Dean Singleton, chairman of the AP, the century-old news wire agency, said at the group's annual meeting in San Diego, "We can no longer stand by and watch others walk off with our work under misguided legal theories," according to a copy of Singleton's statements posted to the company's Web site. "We are mad as hell and we are not going to take it any more."

Google has long said that it provides news site owners with a means to block the search engine from crawling their sites and indexing headlines. "Those who publish on the Web have a lot of control over which pages should appear in search results," Google said in a blog post. "The key is a simple file called robots.txt that has been an industry standard for many years. It lets a site owner control how search engines access their Web site."

The statements from the AP and Journal coming on the same day may have some people questioning whether there is a concerted effort going on within traditional media. There's not according to a spokesman for the Journal.

Regardless, the statements from two stalwart print publications raises questions about whether Google will be forced to open up a new front against yet another group of copyright owners. The search engine is currently defending itself against a copyright-infringement lawsuit filed in 2007 by Viacom, parent company of MTV and Paramount Pictures.

Google's plan to scan orphan books and preserve them in a database is also being challenged. Google has an agreement with the The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers to scan the books, but a group called Consumer Watchdog says the agreement is anticompetitive and has called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to intervene.

In the case of the AP, Google has an agreement to use the news service's content. That is perhaps why Singleton, who is also CEO of MediaNews Group--the fourth-largest newspaper company in the United States in terms of circulation--didn't mention the company in the speech by name. A company spokesman said that the AP and the more than 1,000 newspapers that own the service, just want Google's help fighting the "misappropriation of content."

Besides Google, sites such as Digg, The Drudge Report, The Huffington Post, and Techmeme are just a few of those that aggregate headlines from news sources and post them on their sites. Google takes a headline and a description of the story but readers must click through to the news source's site to obtain the full story.