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    Murdoch could block Google searches entirely


    November 9, 2009 -- Rupert Murdoch says he will remove stories from Google's search index as a way to encourage people to pay for content online. In an interview with Sky News Australia, the mogul said that newspapers in his media empire – including the Sun, the Times and the Wall Street Journal – would consider blocking Google entirely once they had enacted plans to charge people for reading their stories on the web. In recent months, Murdoch his lieutenants have stepped up their war of words with Google, accusing it of "kleptomania" and acting as a "parasite" for including News Corp content in its Google News pages. But asked why News Corp executives had not chosen to simply remove their websites entirely from Google's search indexes – a simple technical operation – Murdoch said just such a move was on the cards. "I think we will, but that's when we start charging," he said. "We have it already with the Wall Street Journal. We have a wall, but it's not right to the ceiling. You can get, usually, the first paragraph from any story - but if you're not a paying subscriber to WSJ.com all you get is a paragraph and a subscription form."

    The 78-year-old mogul's assertion, however, is not actually correct: users who click through to screened WSJ.com articles from Google searches are usually offered the full text of the story without any subscription block. It is only users who find their way to the story through the Wall Street Journal's website who are told they must subscribe before they can read further. Murdoch added that he did not agree with the idea that search engines fell under "fair use" rules - an argument many aggregator websites use as part of their legal justification for reproducing excerpts of news stories online. "There's a doctrine called fair use, which we believe to be challenged in the courts and would bar it altogether... but we'll take that slowly."

    Murdoch's attitude towards the internet - which appeared to have thawed when he bought social networking site MySpace for $580m in 2005 - has stiffened more recently. Over the summer, Murdoch had announced that he planned to introduce website charges by next year - but last week it emerged that his controversial plans had been delayed, saying that "I wouldn't promise that we're going to meet that date". Additionally, it emerged that MySpace, which has struggled in the face of competition from Facebook in recent years, was due to fall short of its targets in a lucrative search deal with Google – a slip that could cost the site more than $100 million in payments from the internet advertising giant.

    In the Sky News Australia interview, Murdoch underlined his feelings towards those companies by listing a litany of names of those that he felt were overstepping the boundaries. "The people who simply just pick up everything and run with it – steal our stories, we say they steal our stories - they just take them," he said. "That's Google, that's Microsoft, that's Ask.com, a whole lot of people ... they shouldn't have had it free all the time, and I think we've been asleep."


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    November 9, 2009 -- The threat to exclude Google from News International websites won't have caused much lost sleep over in the search engine's headquarters in Mountain View in California. Sergey Brin and Larry Page have declared before that if news organisations don't like Google indexing their content, then it only takes two lines of computer code added to a file called "robots.txt", which every website uses to tell search engines where, or not, to wander. The key lines are "User-agent: *" (meaning "whoever you are") and "Disallow: /" (meaning "you're not allowed to go anywhere in here"). Do that, and the site will vanish from Google's index – both for Google News and the more general search index.

    The reality though is that Rupert Murdoch's threat to exclude Google – and perhaps other search engines, such as Microsoft's Bing and Ask.com – is akin to a runner at a sports event threatening to shoot himself in the foot: the ticket-seller, noting that all the other entrants aren't making the same threat, isn't going to be worried. Instead it is Murdoch, who wants to be the ticket-seller, who is troubled. People have been getting stuff without paying for too long, in his view, and it cannot be allowed to continue. "They shouldn't have had it free all the time," he said in his interview on Sky News Australia. But isn't Google News, by pointing people towards Murdoch's properties, helping him? Murdoch's retort is that "there isn't enough advertising in the world to go around to make all the websites profitable".

    There's the rub. Too many websites chasing advertising money spread much more thinly across an explosion of properties; that's one half of the problem. The other half is that so many of the search giant websites are chasing the same piece of "news", because if you're the only one with a particular news item, you don't show up on Google News. But equally, if you're the first with a scoop, you'll soon be buried under the avalanche of copies, an ouroboros of rewrites that sucks any value out of being ahead of the crowd. In that regard, Murdoch's desire to get away from the roundabout of Google News is sensible: he has an old-fashioned vision of the value of journalism (whether his news organisations reflect it is for the reader to decide). The internet's casual destruction of the value chains by which newspapers have made money for decades seems to puzzle and infuriate him.

    Google, meanwhile, will remain unmoved. "Google delivers more than a billion consumer visits to newspaper websites each month. These visits offer the publishers a business opportunity, the chance to hook a reader with compelling content, to make money with advertisements or to offer online subscriptions," wrote Google senior business product manager Josh Cohen in a blog post in July. "The truth is that news publishers, like all other content owners, are in complete control when it comes not only to what content they make available on the web, but also who can access it and at what price." For Murdoch, the price, it seems, is not right.

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    April 7, 2010 -- Rupert Murdoch has launched a spirited defence of putting up paywalls around his newspaper websites, while embracing the game-changing potential of Apple's iPad. The News Corp chairman hailed the new device as a possible saviour of the newspaper industry. Murdoch renewed his attacks on search engines, such as Google, whom he accused of stealing journalism from traditional media outlets. He told a National Press Club event at George Washington University that the newspaper industry had to stand up for itself and charge for content while using copyright law to defend its journalism from being used without its permission.

    "We are going to stop people like Google or Microsoft or whoever from taking stories for nothing… there is a law of copyright and they recognise it," Murdoch told a packed audience of students, journalists and other media professionals. He said search engines had tapped into a "river of gold" by aggregating content but that the days of free news had to come to an end. "They take [news content] for nothing. They have got this very clever business model," he said.

    In June, Murdoch's British titles the Times and Sunday Times will be put behind a paywall, joining his business title, the Wall Street Journal, which already operates one. However, some critics say consumers are now too used to getting online news for free and will not pay subscriptions in big enough numbers to form a viable business model for quality journalism. Murdoch dismissed this fear saying consumers could be forced to change their habits. "When they have got nowhere else to go they will start paying. If it is reasonable. No one is going to ask for a lot of money," he said.

    Murdoch also fired a shot at the New York Times – a common bęte noire of Murdoch's and the Journal's main rival – by saying that the New York Times' own paywall plans were half-hearted and needed to be more restrictive. "They don't seem to be able to make up their mind. They will have opposition internally from some of their journalists, especially their columnists," he said."To really make it work they have got to put a paywall up. I think most newspapers in [the U.S.] have got to have a paywall."

    Advocates of free newspaper websites often accuse Murdoch of being a technophobe, but the Australian media mogul was happy to embrace the technology of Apple's iPad tablet device, launched last Saturday. During the rare interview, with journalist Marvin Kalb, he sat with an iPad and even picked it up to demonstrate how to navigate the Journal's website. He said the iPad could be the saviour of newspaper journalism, albeit in electronic form, not print. "I got a glimpse of the future last weekend with the Apple iPad. It is a wonderful thing," he said. "If you have less newspapers and more of these… it may well be the saving of the newspaper industry."

    Murdoch was also given a grilling in the interview – and by many in the audience – over the conservative bias of his Fox News cable television channel. The audience regularly tittered when Murdoch said he thought the channel had no political bias in its news coverage. "We have both sides. We have Democrats and Republicans, Libertarians and whatever," he said. However, when asked to name a single Democrat-leaning Fox commentator – alongside such famous conservative names as Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly – he struggled openly to remember one. "I wish I could tell you a couple of names. But they are certainly there," he said. He eventually settled on the Fox host Greta van Susteren, whom he said was "close" to the Democratic party.

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