Heilemann on Googlephobia

For his New York column, John keys off the AAP lawsuit: The signs are everywhere. In France, Jacques Chirac has ordered his minions to gin up a French and German search engine—on the grounds that Google is (wait for it) a tool of U.S. cultural imperialism. In Bentonville, Arkansas,…

For his New York column, John keys off the AAP lawsuit:

The signs are everywhere. In France, Jacques Chirac has ordered his minions to gin up a French and German search engine—on the grounds that Google is (wait for it) a tool of U.S. cultural imperialism. In Bentonville, Arkansas, Wal-Mart board members admit to keeping a wary eye on Google—whose capacity to alert shoppers to better bargains elsewhere is seen as a burgeoning threat. Even out in Silicon Valley, reproachful accusations are hurled that the once-beloved leader of the Internet resurgence has taken on a dark Microsoftian cast.

He quotes AAP Pat Schroeder:

“Alan Murray wrote a column in the Wall Street Journal that called Google’s business model a new kind of feudalism: The peasants produce the content; Google makes the profits,” she informs me, then ladles on an extra helping of ominous foreboding. “Do we really want one corporation controlling all the content in the world?”

Then explains how the case turns on interpretation of fair use:

Who’s right? Impossible to say. By all accounts, the law of fair use is mind-bendingly complex: “There are parts of it that I don’t understand, and I’ve been studying it for years,” says Lawrence Lessig, the Stanford intellectual-property guru. Like virtually everyone involved in the dispute—he’s a vocal Google backer—Lessig allows that there are precedents that point in each direction. But he also acknowledges that the legal issues are in some respects peripheral, for the battle is actually being fueled by factors at once more venal and more visceral.

And then gets into the real business at hand:

If Google were to stick to its pledges about how it would employ the megadatabase of books that it’s constructing, the book business would likely benefit. But publishers don’t believe that Google can be relied on to keep its word. They fear that the company, which has made a mint off a technology, the Internet, that publishers still only vaguely comprehend, will someday abandon its putative adherence to just-the-snippets fair use and screw the publishers with their pants on.

As usual, a fun and worthwhile read.

15 thoughts on “Heilemann on Googlephobia”

  1. So Google has bought out Lessig too? First Varian, then Cerf, now Lessig. Who else will end up on being on Google’s dole?

  2. IMHO, this is a really fair question. We’re truly at the tipping point of redefining consumer information access behavior on a mass scale. How are the rights of “content providers” reasonably protected from a change of heart or intention in the future. (Whether this is legitimate or pre-meditated is a meaningless dialog).

    Google is in the cat bird position of meaningfully influencing the future information access patterns of tens/hundreds of millions of consumers. TOS defined commitments seems scant protection if you view how flippantly these things change by techno-centric publishing businesses that are not at all impervious to the influences of highly evolutionary business models. With billions and billions at stake, Worst case, the damages could drive behavior that is well “worth the calculated business risks” of modified TOS down the road. Eyes wide shut isn’t the right mantra through this debate.

    A very fair and immensely important debate. Frustrating? Hell yes, but we’re a part of society and we need to be governed (insert gasp here).


  3. “If Google were to stick to its pledges…”

    As long as Larry/Sergey have control, we have hope… hm, I hope. At least for now. But we know it is not Larry’s or Sergey ‘s company anymore, and/or over time they, and the management team, and board of directors, may (or more likely, will) change their way of thinking due to business/market or other pressures. That is MY concern… We surely are entering a new information age, with new rules/regulations and data policies that will be shaped, some on court, because of privacy and “fair use” concerns.


  4. Tom,

    I think it’s both inappropriate and wildly off-the-mark to assert that Larry Lessig is bought and paid for by Google… or any corporation for that matter.

    Perhaps you don’t actually know of the guy’s work or (IMHO) brilliance, but he’s been a tireless champion for the rights of individuals to access and appropriately use information for many years.

    I’ve heard him speak and I’ve read much of what he’s written. He’s thoughtful, articulate, and hardly a ‘tool’.

    Say what you like about Google, but I believe it reflects poorly on you to suggest (without any backing) that a passionate defender of consumer rights like Mr. Lessig is dishonorable. We need MORE people like him in our society!

  5. CEO, I respectfully submit that it maybe a bit naive to think that Larry and Sergey will continue to always do the right thing. I remember hearing them back in 1998 profess that advertising is evil. They even wrote to that effect in their early academic papers. Then, with VC pressures to make money or shut the doors, it changed to “text advertising is not evil” and eventually slipped down the slope to where we are today which “contextual advertising is great, we’ll even put it in your email!”

    Basing public policy issues like copyright law on trusting two 32 year olds is not prudent in my opinion.

  6. Adam,

    Fair enough, though the question itself it fair enough to: has Lessig received or is he receiving any compensation from Google?

  7. Seems to me there is a simple answer to this, one that google (and others have used before). Instead of giving publishers the “trust us, we’ll make you more money” approach, back it up with guaranteed revenue. Google and Yahoo have both done this before with contextual ads (mainly for large publishers who, in the beginning, were timid about putting google/ overture ads on their pages). I would guess if they allocated some of the risk to themselves, by guaranteeing some revenue, book publishers would be more inclined that there is no “evil doing” going on.

    Having no knowledge of the negotiations, perhaps this was offered and rebuked by the publishers…if so, that’s probably just because the guarantee wasn’t high enough….

  8. Joe,

    Excellent idea and one that I too endorse. Unfortunately, that type of advertising sharing revenue model is being resisted by Google. Google does not want to share that much advertising revenue with publishers &/or authors. This would mean giving up to 80% of the ad revenue to the content providers, which would be similar to the up to 80% currently being paid by Google to distribution partners for AdSense for Content).

    Instead, Google is trying to get publishers and authors to be happy with increased book sales and it keeping all the advertising revenue, or only sharing a small portion of it. It threatens to use fair use to get their desired result.

    Seems evil to me for Google to profit so greatly from the years of hard effort by authors and the expenses publishers incurred to produce these works. How is Google doing the right thing for publishers or authors? Seems like a big slap in the face to me.

    No one disagrees that having the world’s books readily accessible is a good thing, the question is the business model and who gets rewarded for what value added to the world.

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