Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Google Gone Wild: Goes on Offense Against Copyright Claims

A good article by Web Pro News covers the aftermath of a Belgian court's judgment against Google's use of content from Belgian news sources, a decision that required Google not only to pull the content from their Google News search engine but as well to post details of the decision on Google's Belgian home page. This apparently set off some sparks specific to Belgium but also seems to have triggered a new PR campaign by the search giant to bolster its image as a "good guy" player in online content. A manifesto of sorts has been posted , on the corporate Google Blog. The piece outlines how Google respects copyrights, lets content owners choose their stance on Google's service and how Google's approach benefits publishers. On other fronts Google is trying to emphasize that it's role is not focused on generating original content but to make others' content more useful, as underscored by Google VP of Advertisting Sales Tim Armstrong in a Reuters article.

One hopes for the sake of a vibrant online content marketplace that the Belgian judgment turns out to be a backwater decision that fails to reset the hands of the clock to a pre-web concept of copyright. Indexing and cacheing content for search purposes based on fair use doctrines inherent in most all international copyright law is the backbone of the productivity gains that have benefitted publishers of all kinds in the online environment. Fair use is also under threat from digital rights management packaging systems, a development that the British Library is pushing to have addressed more clearly in today's copyright laws (CNET News coverage). Lynne Brindley, chief executive of the British Library, put forward the case for clarification of copyright laws most succinctly in the CNET article: "Unless there is a serious updating of copyright law to recognize the changing technological environment, the law becomes an ass," she notes.

While Google is trying to mend fences with publishers uncertain about their motives the rhetoric becomes strained when one looks at products such as AdSense, Google Local, Google Earth and Google Base that are built on open but proprietary platforms and designed to aggregate a world of unique content for its own purposes. Google is most definitely in the publishing business, whether or not it has traditional media operations, and needs to adjust its rhetoric to reflect that reality more objectively. In doing so it may find itself more able to have its core mission statement resonate more clearly in the courts and in the court of public opinion. The mission is sound and the wording may be true but without further adjustments to its communications Google is in danger of it becoming rather the ass that the copyright law itself is in danger of becoming. Here's to better communications between all parties in this matter.
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