One of the ongoing debates around file sharing and content downloads is whether or not the tools to help people find content should be illegal if the content they help point out is illegal. This was the crux of the Grokster case, where the Supreme Court set up a fuzzy "inducement" standard. Other countries have struggled with the issue as well -- with some deciding linking to unauthorized content should be illegal and others recognizing that simply linking to something shouldn't be a crime. Now we can add the Netherlands to the list of countries that has believes search engines can be illegal, even if they don't host any unauthorized content themselves. The article includes obligatory quotes from the recording industry about how this is a "boost" in the fight. Of course, as has been shown repeatedly, that's ridiculous. People will simply gravitate to other search engines (perhaps pushed along by the publicity these lawsuits generate). However, a more important point is where do you set the boundary for outlawing a search engine that doesn't do anything illegal itself? In this case, it was a search engine for MP3s -- yet there are many, many musicians who actually like to give away their MP3s for free. So, shutting down such a search engine hurts many musicians who choose to go this route in promoting their music. Yes, it also stops the unauthorized downloading (from that search engine only), but why do the proponents of one side get to dictate what technology the other side can't use in promoting their music? Is there a specific percentage of unauthorized content where you need to draw the line? How do you strike that balance if you're always shutting down these engines? At the same time, from the technology side, it wouldn't be hard (and, yes, it's been done) for people to simply build an mp3 search engine on top of Google or Yahoo. Should the industry go after Yahoo and Google and shut them down to stop this? That seems ridiculous, of course, but if you can't stop Google and Yahoo, then what good is stopping one of these niche search engines? It's another wasted effort designed more to hold back innovation and new business models, rather than embrace it.
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