With Enemies Like This, Who Needs Friends?

An interviewer recently interrupted Rupert Murdoch’s bellyaching about all the traffic and free advertising Google was sending News Corp’s way (I believe “steal our stories” is the expression he actually used) to ask him a seemingly obvious question:  if he was so bothered by Google’s links to his content, why didn’t he just use the robots.txt protocol to block indexing from Google?

His response:  “I think we will.”  That’s the first time he’s explicitly made that threat.

All the jubilation and cheering you hear is from Pirate Parties, anti-copyright activists and penguinheads all around the world.  Punishing people for directing traffic to your site seems, to put it mildly, a bit counterintuitive as a business strategy.  But then Murdoch’s always been an outside the box thinker.

Well, actually he just seems plain old befuddled.  Not only did he specifically cite the Wall Street Journal as a good example of the paid content business model; he also pointed out that the WSJ provides the first paragraph for free along with the subscription form to read more.  So he obviously doesn’t object in principle to giving readers a sample of what’s behind the pay wall.  What, then, is the point of preventing Google from indexing his online content?  As Stan Schroeder points out, it’s hard to figure out just what Murdoch’s thinking:

“If he plans to charge for websites, why hide them from the search engines? If you can’t actually read the content without paying, then making the content at least partly accessible to Google and other search engines can’t hurt? In fact, the WSJ that he mentions as an example isn’t hidden from Google’s indexes, you can easily find Wall Street Journal articles via Google.”

Google’s response, as you might expect, was a perplexed shrug and “OK, whatever”:  “Publishers put their content on the Web because they want it to be found.”

It’s probably a safe guess that Monty Burns—er, Rupert Murdoch—isn’t real clear on the difference between email and a search engine, and doing web searches on The Internets is a task he delegates to his secretary or grandkids.  “I’m really enjoying this so-called… ‘iced cream.’”

Blocking Google’s web crawlers, at first glance, seems like a clueless (not to say ass-brained) business model.  But what do I know?  Murdoch’s a big media mogul.  Maybe he’s a frigging genius, and I’m just too stupid to comprehend the loftiness of his vision.  Maybe he’s figured out a way your business can attract paying customers when nobody knows who the hell you are.  Sure.  And next week, maybe the grocer will come up with a winning new idea for making money by suing you for telling people where the store is.

By the way, has Murdoch started saving his own urine and wearing Kleenex boxes on his feet yet?

Maybe Google should give Murdoch a taste of his own medicine and block News Corp from all results pages for a day or two, all on its own.

Murdoch also reached into his, um, hat and pulled out this little gem:  “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.”  He must have been talking to the people who came up with the anti-”songlifting” curricula the RIAA has been generously distributing in the publik skools.

With enemies like this, who needs friends?  We don’t need to destroy the proprietary content industries.  They’re hanging themselves with their own rope.

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