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Previously, Google Video, unveiled in January last year, only offered a chance to upload and view uncopyrighted videos free - creating a jungle of thousands of weird, searchable amateur videos (try "party", "family" or "vacation" to get the flavour).

But Google is now signing up professional broadcasters, and soon users will be asked to pay for downloads. But how will users take to paying a firm that has so far offered them so much for nothing? "It will be a new experience for them," says Jennifer Feikin, director of Google Video. "If you look at our product today, we refer people off to somewhere where they purchase things; this is something brand new, where it [the purchase] will be happening on Google."

Google's new interest in selling is a worrying trend for the likes of Amazon, but Battelle believes online retail is only the start of Google's commercial ambitions: "They are changing the economic presumptions of a number of industries. You can start to tick the boxes of all the information-driven, intellectual property-driven businesses in the world. And it's a very, very big bundle of businesses - the biggest bundle one can imagine."

So far, Google has remained tight-lipped about whether its video payment system will be the basis for other services.

When I suggested to Feikin that it would allow the firm to sell almost anything to its customers, she hesitated for a moment, then replied with cheerful mock-surprise: "That's a good idea!"

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