Google's Associated Press licensing deal short on results

AP licensing deal passes the one-year mark but promised offerings have yet to be delivered

One year after Google acknowledged signing a licensing deal with The Associated Press to launch new Google features and services, the promised offerings haven't been delivered.

The deal attracted a lot of attention when it was announced in August of last year. At the time, Google went to great lengths to make clear that it didn't sign the deal in order to appease the AP and avoid a lawsuit over the use of AP material in the Google News aggregation site.

Google was then defending itself from a lawsuit from Agence France Press, another global wire service, which alleged that inclusion of its content in Google News amounted to copyright infringement.

Then -- as it does now -- Google argued that Google News is protected by the fair use principle, because it only displays headlines, text snippets, and thumbnail images.

As such, Google maintains that it doesn't need permission to crawl news sites, index their content and link to their articles from Google News.

When describing the AP deal a year ago, Google said that it was intended to let Google use original AP content in a broader manner than in Google News for future features and products.

"We are very excited about the innovative new products we will build with full access to this [Associated Press] content," Google said in a statement then. "Google News is fully consistent with fair use and always has been."

However, the licensing deal is now more than a year old -- it had been signed a few months before it was actually announced in August of last year -- and the promised new Google services and features are nowhere to be seen.

On Wednesday, a Google spokesman confirmed the AP deal hasn't produced any new offerings yet.

"We are always working on new ways to help users find the information they are looking for, and our business agreement with the Associated Press is one example of that," Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker wrote via e-mail. "We're confident that our relationship with the AP will result in user benefit, but have nothing specific to announce at this time."

AP spokesman Jack Stokes declined to discuss details about the Google deal, citing the organization's general policy on publicly discussing customer deals. "The agreements with commercial markets, such as the one signed with Google, protect our intellectual property and provide supplemental revenue to subsidize our newsgathering and other services for members," he wrote via e-mail.

Industry analyst Greg Sterling, from Sterling Market Intelligence, said it was fair to note that a year has passed since the announcement but that he would give Google the benefit of the doubt and assume that the promised offerings are in the works.

A skeptic could reach a different conclusion and declare that the licensing deal was really signed in order to avoid a lawsuit from the AP over Google News, he said.

"I'm not going to be the voice of the skeptic but I think that's a potential inference to draw," Sterling said. "I'd have a more neutral view."

That a difference of opinion over the legality of Google News brought Google and AP to the table isn't simply speculation. The AP's own article about the deal alluded to a conflict in its first line: "Google Inc. is paying The Associated Press for stories and photographs, settling a dispute with a major provider of the copyright news that the online search engine finds and displays on its popular Web site." That article also indicated that Google would deliver the AP-based offerings "in the coming months."

In its report about the deal, The Wall Street Journal wrote that: "People familiar with the discussions said that the two sides disagree over whether Google News infringes on media outlets' copyrights but wanted to avoid a legal dispute."

Although the AFP case was settled in April through a licensing agreement, Google News continues to be challenged in and out of court.

For example, Copiepresse, the publishing group representing Le Soir, Le Libre Belgique, and other Belgian newspapers, sued Google for copyright infringement, arguing that it profits unfairly by posting snippets of its members' news stories on Google's Web sites, including Google News, without paying for their use.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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