Google: Caught on Tape

Less than two weeks ago, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) revealed plans to expand its search empire into video. Already, there's trouble. Last week the search king was forced to pull copyrighted material from its digital archives. Among the popular posts were the movies from the Matrix trilogy, as well as episodes of the cartoon TV show Family Guy.

How could we have not seen this coming? Google's site spells out a strict policy against posting copyrighted material, but in the end, the company relies on the honor system. I admire its pluck, but this is the Web we're talking about, where untold millions posing as modern-day Robin Hoods get their kicks distributing illegal content freely. Google's video archives are as good as an enabler as you'll find for these crooks.

That's not to say Google Video is a bad idea. It's just fraught with problems. How Google handles those issues will offer clues as to whether it will become the high-rent digital landlord we all hope it can be or a digital slumlord of a mess of broken-down properties serving as havens for copyright criminals.

Think about it. Every Google property is vulnerable. Gmail has spam, for example. And AdSense has click fraud, as Foolish colleague Rick Munarriz pointed out not long ago. The list goes on and on, which means an increasing part of Google's expenses will have to go toward policing its properties.

I get a little queasy about that because Google is about innovation, not law enforcement. Can management handle the transition? I think so. Consider: Google pulled most of the copyrighted material in less than 24 hours, according to News.com. That's a good sign. But, again, this is only the beginning, and risk still abounds. The Foolish investor would be well-advised to stay tuned.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers thinks Googling may be the coolest made-up word he's ever heard. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out what's in his portfolio by checking Tim's Fool profile, which is here. The Motley Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.


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