Last September, the Authors Guild sued Google for copyright infringement related to the search giant's Google Print for Libraries service. The lawsuit alleges that despite having libraries' permission, Google lacks the consent of individual authors and copyright holders to digitize and make available the full text of books in the libraries' possession.
To help defend itself, Google subpoenaed companies such as Yahoo!, Microsoft
Meanwhile, Yahoo! and MSN are both members of the Open Content Alliance (OCA), which seeks to digitize print and multimedia materials. These materials will be available "soon" on Yahoo! and the OCA website, according to the organization. The OCA site claims it will gain permission from all copyright holders before including their work.
It's hard to ignore the irony here. Yahoo! and Amazon are objecting because they don't want to reveal proprietary information to Google, and Yahoo!'s rejection includes harsh language about Google wanting to search "the minds and computers of Yahoo! employees," according to the AP. Yet earlier this year, Google itself rejected a government subpoena requesting search data. It got PR props for standing up for user privacy, but many noted that the refusal was also a business decision to protect its trade secrets. Why would Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Amazon respond any differently, especially if they're not on the hot seat? To me, it's a little weird that Google's even going there.
Big questions remain unanswered about digital media's future: how customers will access it, how companies will profit from it, and how individual artists and copyright holders will be able to make a living from it. Driving forces such as Creative Commons, with its flexible, open-source approach to copyright, and BitTorrent, with its decentralized file-sharing network, are already giving traditional media companies a serious case of the heebie-jeebies.
Google's goal is to organize the world's information -- and with much of that information copyrighted, and the rules of digital copyright still vague and developing, it's likely in for a fight. While its rivals sit on the sidelines and watch their huge foe slug it out, Google's battles to get its hands on copyrighted content may ultimately carry a hefty financial price for its shareholders.
We have the right to copies of further Foolishness:
- Longtime Fool Mac Greer recently talked to David Vise, author of The Google Story, about Google and copyright.
- Read about Google's bid for bookworms.
- Tim Beyers discussed the Authors Guild's complaints against Google last year.
Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.