Google Responds To Accusations Of “Stealing” Publisher’s Content

A publisher took to Twitter to share their reaction to what they felt was essentially a theft of their content for the benefit Google with what they felt was little to no benefit to the publisher.

Google’s response was surprising and probably not what publishers and SEOs expected.

The publisher showed a screenshot of a branded site:search for things to do in Denver with content directly from their site.

The publisher tweeted:

“Google is now stealing Travel Lemming’s own brand searches (even via site search).

They take our list — INCLUDING MY ORIGINAL PHOTOS 📸 — and present it in a rich result so people don’t click through.

I am literally IN that Red Rocks photo!…”

This wasn’t just happening to branded and site:searches, either.

Google was competing with the publisher with the publishers content for regular keyword searches like Mexico Travel Tips.

The publisher tweeted a screenshot of the SERPs with a huge search feature that uses all of the publisher’s content.

He tweeted:

“They are doing this across all travel searches – unbranded and branded alike.

Example: “Mexico Travel Tips” – they have an AI answer & also a rich result that basically just re-creates an entire blog post, including our stolen photos.

Again, I am IN that Mexico packing photo!”

Here’s the tweet:

They followed up with this, this and this tweet:

“Like how is it legal for Google to just essentially create entire blog posts from creators’ content and images?

I literally have a law degree from the top law school in the world, and even I can’t figure it out!

Fair use does NOT apply if you’re using the content to compete directly against the creator, which they clearly are.
I can’t sit outside a movie theatre, project the movie on a wall, earn money from it, and claim fair use.

I spent SO much time taking those photos in Denver.

It was 10+ full days worth of work for me and partner Clara, going around the city to photograph everything. $100s of money spent in attraction admission fees, gas, parking.

Now Google just gets to extract all that value?

How much does Google get to take before creators say “enough is enough”?

How hard does the water have to boil before the frog jumps?

The comments show it is a prisoner’s dilemma as long as Google has a monopoly on search …”

Google Responds

Google’s SearchLiaison (aka Danny Sullivan) responded with an explanation of what’s going on. They explained how the rich result that uses the entirety of the publisher’s content also features a link back to the publisher’s webpage.

Wisely, SearchLiaison didn’t insist that Google was in the right.  Instead, their response was sympathetic to the plight of the publisher.

SearchLiaison likely understood how the publisher felt because, unlike many Googlers, Danny Sullivan used to be a publisher for many decades. He, probably more than any other Googler, knows what it’s like to be on the other side of Google’s fence.

SearchLiaison tweeted:

“Hey Nate, this got flagged to my attention. I’ll pass along the feedback to the team. Pretty sure this isn’t a new feature. Elsewhere in the thread, you talk about it being an AI answer, and I’m pretty sure that’s not the case, either. It’s a way to refine an initial query and browse into more results.

With the example you point out, when you expand the listing, your image is there with a credit. If you click, a preview with a larger view comes up, and that lets people visit the site. Personally, I’m not a fan of the preview-to-click.

I think it should click directly to the site (feedback I’ve shared internally before, and I’ll do this again). But it’s making use of how Google Images operates, where there’s a larger preview that helps people decide if an image is relevant to their search query. Your site is also listed there, too. Click on that, people get to your site.”

If you don’t want your images to appear in Google Search, this explains how to block them:
https://developers.google.com/search/docs/crawling-indexing/prevent-images-on-your-page

I suspect you’d prefer an option to not have them appear as thumbnails in particular features. We don’t have that type of granular control, but I’ll also pass the feedback on.”

SearchLiaison followed up with another tweeted response:

“I appreciate your thoughts and concerns. I do. The intention overall is to make search better, which includes ensuring people do indeed continue to the open web — because we know for us to thrive, the open web needs to thrive.

But I can also appreciate that this might not seem obvious from how some of the features display.

I’m going to be sharing these concerns with the search team, because they’re important.

You and other creators that are producing good content (and when you’re ranking in the top results, that’s us saying it’s good content) should feel we are supporting you.

We need to look at how what we say and how our features operate ensure you feel that way.

I’ll be including your response as part of this.”

Are Google’s Rich Results Unfair?

There’s a legal definition of what’s fair and it may be that Google has a legal right to use website content in a manner that has the impression that Google is “stealing” the content from a publisher to outrank that publisher with their own content.

But there’s also a subjective common sense definition of fair play that you feel in your heart. Maybe it’s that notion of fairness that many publishers feel when Google appears to use their content in a way that seems to benefit Google more than it does the publisher.

Is this one of those situations that fits into the paradigm of just because you can doesn’t mean that you should?


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