Search the Site

Who Owns a Link? Google Vs. European Publishers

The New York Times published an interesting article last week about an ongoing dispute in Europe between Google and European newspapers (and their supporters in government). The issue is whether Google must pay for the privilege of linking to those sites, or should be able to link for free. Of course, at stake is who gains the revenue that comes from aggregating and compiling links.

As the Times notes:

Google got rich by selling a simple proposition: The links it provides to other Web sites are worth a lot of money, so much that millions of advertisers are willing to pay the company billions of dollars for them.

Now some European newspaper and magazine publishers, frustrated by their inability to make more of their own money from the Web, want to reverse the equation. Google, they say, should pay them for links, because they provide the material on which the Web giant is generating all that revenue.

In several of the biggest European countries, they are close to getting their way.

This raises very interesting questions of property rights. Who owns a link? And of course the value of a link is an interdependent product of the link’s creator (here, the newspaper publishers) but those that provide a pathway to the link and broadcast it, as it were, to the wider world (here, Google). A change in the current default rules has major implications for Google’s business model.