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News Corp chief lays into Google on competition and copyright grounds

By | Published on Thursday 18 September 2014

Robert Thomson

Rupert Murdoch’s publishing business News Corp has joined the public assault on the ever-powerful and slightly evil (allegedly) Google by releasing a letter sent by its CEO Robert Thomson to the European Union’s Competition Commissioner JoaquĆ­n Almunia.

It’s not the first time execs at a Murdoch-led business have criticised the web giant, though Thomson’s letter is particularly harsh. Its core focus is the ongoing allegation that Google continues to act in an anti-competitive way, exploiting its nearly 90% share of the web search market in Europe.

Thomson’s missive comes as Almunia reopens the European Commission’s long-running investigation into Google’s search and advertising business, after efforts to reach an agreement with the web firm on how it might overcome competition law concerns faltered.

While conceding that not every single person working at Google is totally and utterly evil (many are “honourable and thoroughly professional” he says), Thomson writes: “The company has evolved from a wonderfully feisty, creative Silicon Valley startup to a vast, powerful, often unaccountable bureaucracy, which is sometimes contemptuous of intellectual property and routinely configures its search results in a manner that is far from objective”.

He goes on: “The shining vision of Google’s founders has been replaced by a cynical management, which offers advertisers impressively precise data about users and content usage, but has been a platform for piracy and the spread of malicious networks, all while driving more traffic and online advertising dollars to Google. [It] has been remarkably successful in its ability to monetise users, but has not shown the willingness, even though it clearly has the ability, to respect fundamental property rights”.

Thomson’s letter confirms that Murdoch’s newspaper and book empire is an ally of those in the music business who reckon that Google – while on one level a partner and revenue generator – is also an enemy of the content industries. And while Thomson’s specific focus is the allegedly anti-competitive business practices rather than the intellectual property issues usually raised by the labels, firstly it’s anti-competitive behaviour being alleged by the indie label community against Google in the ongoing YouTube dispute, and secondly Thomson makes sure Almunia is also aware of the copyright concerns in his letter too.

As previously reported, Google is increasingly seen as a big enabler of piracy by the copyright industries, for failing to de-list blatantly copyright infringing websites from its search results, even when courts have ordered said websites be blocked on infringement grounds. And on launching her organisation’s ‘Measuring Music’ report yesterday, UK Music boss Jo Dipple noted that a top priority for the industry’s lobbyists is getting “help to ensure the many legal music services we licence are given priority in online search results”.

Thomson, meanwhile, concluded in his note to the EC: “The internet should be a canvas for freedom of expression and for high-quality content of enduring value. Undermining the basic business model of professional content creators will lead to a less informed, more vexatious level of dialogue in our society. Your decision to reconsider Google’s settlement offer comes at a crucial moment in the history of the free flow of information and of a healthy media in Europe and beyond”.