Google and Fair Use

Google has become a verb in today’s world. When someone needs information, their solution will frequently be to “Google it”. Rarely do Internet users go directly to the websites for the New York Times or Washington Post. Instead, they will Google a headline or news subject. What comes next is controversial among journalists, Google, and the law of fair use in many ways. First of all, when a user “Googles” something, the first page that comes up is a list of links to websites containing the word or key phrase being searched. Under each link is a sentence or two from the sites which contains the words being searched. From this page, users typically do one of two things: either click on the first link available or choose a link based on the content beneath it. Journalists argue that using the content from their work with no cost to Google is abuse of fair use. Fair use is the legal standard for what or how much of a copyrighted work can be used for free.

Furthermore, the first link on Google’s results page for news is commonly to the Huffington Post website. However, the Huffington Post does not create its own original work. They essentially repost news stories found from other papers and websites. Journalists are already losing profits from their work as newspapers go digital. For example, The New York Times Company does not charge users to access stories from their websites. In doing so, they make their profit from high advertising rates produced by heavy trafficking of their “free” website. Due to this new dynamic, journalists are not generating a profit from their original work and it is being reposted onto sites like the Huffington Post website. This leaves people wondering why the Huffington Post link appears first on the Google results page if it isn’t even a true news generator. The answer is simple: search engine optimization which basically means they manipulate the use of key words and phrases users will search in conjunction with web database operations to make their site appear first. The real debate here is whether Google should be held accountable for a site with non-original works getting the most traffic. While journalists believe humans should alter the web protocols in order for sites with original works to appear first, others believe Google is simply a third party provider of links and information. As the battle continues we will see who comes out on top and if this in fact turns into a legal issue of fair use.

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