Refusal, ignorance, arrogance or PR?

In mid-March, French news service Agence France Presse sued Google Inc. in a U.S. District Court for copyright violations. The news service demanded that Google stop including its material on the Google News site and asked for US$17.5 million in compensatory damages.

You will pardon me if I express some doubts about the actual motivation for this lawsuit.

I’ve written in the past about Google News. I consider it one of the most useful sites on the Internet. I use it to fill out the news snippets that I get from most other news sources.

That said, I get frustrated at Google News links to subscription-only sites because I can’t access some of the stories that look interesting. I’ve always assumed that such sites welcome Google’s pointers because they get free advertising for themselves and thus might get some additional customers.

In that context, this lawsuit makes me wonder what’s up with AFP. Google News doesn’t show full articles, so I find it hard to understand what damage could mount up to more than US$17 million — maybe AFP has a very high opinion of its ability to come up with inventive headlines and feels that other news organizations will rip them off if the headlines, which Google News does show, are visible. Or maybe the reason that AFP doesn’t want Google News to point to its material is that AFP fears getting more subscribers will mean it would have to hire more people to deal with them.

Even if I don’t understand why a company in the business of selling its services does not want more people to know about those services. It doesn’t look like it would be all that hard for AFP to ensure that Google skips over its sites.

Google has an easy-to-find Web page that says quite clearly how to keep a site from being scanned ( Basically, all you do if you want Google to skip all or part of your site is put one or more files named “robots.txt” in your Web site.

Disclaimer: Of course you never see either arrogance or a desire for publicity in relationship to Harvard, so the above observation is mine alone.

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