Invisible Ink

Where have all the papers gone? Just for fun, pretend you're running a newspaper. You have way too many readers, so you think it might be a good idea to make your publication less visible to the world at large. The Internet, of course, is a big part of this problem. It's so easy for people to find your paper with a simple Google search—too easy, in fact—and then there they are, wanting to read your paper. It's a problem.

Fortunately, there's a simple solution. Just tell Google to stop supplying links to your stuff, and that way no one will know about your publication. Well, maybe some people will know, but in the global context you'll be virtually invisible! How cool is that?

Pretty cool, evidently, if you happen to run a newspaper in Belgium. For the second time, a Belgian court has ordered Google to keep its e-paws off certain versions of its newspapers, citing copyright infringement. Although some observers see the ruling as an appropriate indictment of Google's approach to fair-use standards, others consider it misguided, and ultimately self-destructive. Tuesday's article on CNET News quoted people from both sides of the fence, but I'll just include a remark from the side I happen to agree with, attributed to Chris Ruhland, a litigation and intellectual-property lawyer in Los Angeles.

The newspapers were doing themselves a disservice, Ruhland added. "They won a legal victory for now but maybe not in the long term," he said. "In 2007, if you are not findable in Google, you might as well not exist for practical purposes."

It's a good point. Why would anyone—especially those in the publishing business right now—not want to show up on Google's radar? John Dvorak amplified the point a good deal more at MarketWatch.

If I was a shareholder in any of these publications, I would be asking the executives exactly why they want fewer readers and no links from Google. Is it some new business model?

Also, Google and most other search providers have a methodology to block their engines from scanning sites. This process is usually done by private organizations that wish to stay off the grid and by pirate sites. Any commercial operation would never choose to do it -- but it could.

Hey, maybe it is a new business model, sort of. Maybe it's a new, improved version of the old grab Google's market share model. Just because it hasn't worked before doesn't mean it can't work, ever. Or maybe things just work differently in Belgium.


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