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KAI RYSSDAL: Seems you can't turn around lately without another illegal download story. Today's comes to us courtesy of Google, and its video site You Tube. Google's the search engine company that doesn't strictly make its money from searches, but from advertising around those searches. And it's in hot water over those some of those ads.

Mainline media companies are objecting to ties Google has with some less-than-reputable downloaders. Matthew Karnitschnig had the story in today's Wall Street Journal.

MATTHEW KARNITSCHNIG: The media companies, essentially through the MPAA, the Motion Picture Association of America, are constantly on the lookout for Internet pirates. And they found a couple of guys who they suspected were fostering piracy by selling people access to downloads. And in the course of that case, they say, they discovered that Google had been working very closely with those companies by giving them advice on what key words to use to direct traffic to the site. And Google sells these key words. In this case, they included "Download Harry Potter Movie" or "Spiderman 2." And then the ads for these websites would pop up. And if somebody clicked on that website, Google would get a fee.

RYSSDAL: Is Google doing anything illegal by running these ads?

KARNITSCHNIG: Well, that's a big question. It's not really clear. Google hasn't commented directly on this case. They've said that they respect copyrights. Some of the media companies I've spoke with said that they believe Google is inciting others to commit copyright infringement. Which also violates the law.

RYSSDAL: Which media companies are we talking about here?

KARNITSCHNIG: We're talking about the biggest media companies: News Corp, NBC Universal, which is owned by GE, Time Warner and Viacom.

RYSSDAL: All of which have had, in various forms recently, their own run-ins with downloads and YouTube and all of those guys.

KARNITSCHNIG: That's correct. These companies, on the one hand, they have run-ins over copyright issues with Google and YouTube. And on the other hand, they have other business relationships with them. Or at least some of them do. Time Warner, for example, through AOL, has a relationship with Google. Google owns 5 percent of AOL. And AOL uses Google search. So they have other business relationships with Google that complicates this whole issue.

RYSSDAL: You know, my first thought when I read your piece this morning was about these ads. And how Yahoo's been trying, and everybody else has been trying to beat Google at the Internet advertising game. And really what seems to be happening is that the media companies might force Google's hand.

KARNITSCHNIG: That's right. As this has been going on, they've also been holding conversations with Google about YouTube. And they're very concerned about YouTube's use of their programming without authorization. And they want to get licensing fees from Google for this material. And so far, they haven't been able to reach any deal. So I think it's frustration over that that's really the backdrop for what's going on here.


RYSSDAL: Is this all, do you think, some sort of overt media pressure in lieu of negotiation? And then eventually we'll see some deal between Google and YouTube and these media companies where everybody walks away happy, and in theory, richer?

KARNITSCHNIG: I think that could happen. I think what also could happen is that they will continue to put pressure on Google. And try to find other ways of taking their content to the Internet without having to deal with either YouTube or Google. I think that's what they would prefer to do. Whether or not that's a viable option remains to be seen.

RYSSDAL: Matthew Karnitschnig's a staff reporter with the Wall Street Journal. Matthew, thanks a lot for your time.

KARNITSCHNIG: Thank you very much, Kai.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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