Google Is No Longer Silicon Valley's Legal Defender

from the too-bad dept

When Google settled the lawsuit over its book scanning project, we noted with disappointment how this appeared to signal the end of Google’s earlier position of fighting certain legal battles on principle. For a few years, Google’s legal team had been taking up a variety of lawsuits purely on principle. In many cases it would have been cheaper and easier to settle, but Google had made clear that it saw those lawsuits as a way to define better law — and that helped all of Silicon Valley (and, in many cases, the overall economy). Yet, in settling this lawsuit, it became clear that Google was no longer fighting lawsuits on principle, and, in fact would consider settling cases knowing that it actually made life more difficult for the rest of Silicon Valley.

Obviously, as a business concern, this is Google’s right — and some may even say that it’s Google’s responsibility to its shareholders to do such a thing. I would disagree, simply because, in the long term, by settling these lawsuits, rather than helping to establish what the law says, Google merely invites more lawsuits from more companies hoping to “settle up” as well. Plus, without the law being clear, it creates uncertainty and inefficiency in the market, and that’s not good for anyone — including Google.

Fred von Lohmann, over at the EFF, has written up an op-ed noting pretty much the same thing. The rest of Silicon Valley can no longer rely on Google to fight their legal battles for them — and, we’re all going to be worse off for it in the long run. Not that anyone ever should have expected Google to be the rest of the tech community’s legal defender, but it certainly had been a welcome development — which is apparently now over.

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Companies: eff, google

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Comments on “Google Is No Longer Silicon Valley's Legal Defender”

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16 Comments
bowerbird (profile) says:

no, we couldn’t have “expected” google to take on the role of
establishing a good legal precedent. but they did take it on.

and were rewarded with favorable reactions because they did.

they accepted those reactions, but then abdicated their role…

furthermore, their “settlement” is one that establishes them
as monopoly player, raising the cost of entry to competitors.

this means their abdication was self-serving, and thus “evil”,
to use the concept that they themselves brought to the table.

they’ve put a sour taste into the mouths of the people who
have been supporting them all along — like myself — and
given ammunition to their critics (like siva vaidhyanathan)
who have been loudly suspicious of their motives all along.

i sincerely hope the courts will put aside this “settlement”
as contrary to the interest of the public.

-bowerbird

Cameron says:

Everyone dies (and poops)

I’ve been a Google fanboy since the very beginning, and it is sad to watch the gentle decline of such a great organization. I am still a fan, but I am concerned. I only hope they can work through their issues and survive as a strong company without succumbing to the things that make Yahoo, Microsoft, and many other companies that once had an exciting future wither away so miserably.

MidnightCoder (profile) says:

And so it goes..

I can remember when Micro$oft was the swell new guy on the block going up against the evil Big Blue IBM. How long did that image last?

Also worth commenting is the hero of the fan boys, Apple, has more cash than Google and never lets out a peep about doing anything that is not entirely for #1.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Mark Regan says:

Apples and Oranges

It’s one thing to link folks to billions of existing web pages through a search engine for free, or to index keywords in those same web pages.

It is quite another thing to hire people to scan book pages into YOUR computer and then compete with the book sellers by offering FREE reads of THEIR author’s books without having to pay royalties to the author or publishing house.

Kind of like the college students who photocopy EVERYTHING from the books and magazines on the free copy machine at the library or at work so they don’t have to subscribe to or buy same.

Writers need to get paid for their labor (and the common means is for each word published, or by advance fees plus royalties from publishing houses, or they are put on salary by newspapers and magazines and MUST fill their assigned “space” on the front page or sports page.

If Google’s scanners deprive these writers and their employers of their money, will Google begin paying them a royalty for each “view?”

YouTube is different, in that the music companies can self-publish and profit from the free publicity that Google provides. Google is not taking their music and loading it onto YouTube themselves.

By all rights, Google and the book industry SHOULD enter into some sort of agreement to SHARE profits from advertising or some other fair mechanism to ensure that Google and the publishers and authors get something to cover their costs.

Then all of us will benefit by having a wider choice of reading material for the price of having to endure looking at a few ads instead of chasing down rare books at a bookstore across the county.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Apples and Oranges

It is quite another thing to hire people to scan book pages into YOUR computer and then compete with the book sellers by offering FREE reads of THEIR author’s books without having to pay royalties to the author or publishing house.

Spoken like someone who hasn’t bothered to understand what he’s criticizing.

Google’s book search was never about offering up free reads of books. You couldn’t do it. It limited how much you could read.

What Google did was create an INDEX of books, like a better card catalogue. As such, it really was no different than their search engine, which created an INDEX of websites.

So, perhaps before criticizing, as you have, you ought to take a look at what Google actually did.

Writers need to get paid for their labor (and the common means is for each word published, or by advance fees plus royalties from publishing houses, or they are put on salary by newspapers and magazines and MUST fill their assigned “space” on the front page or sports page.

No one “needs” to get paid for their labor. You get paid if the market decides it’s worth paying you and you create a business model that works.


If Google’s scanners deprive these writers and their employers of their money, will Google begin paying them a royalty for each “view?”

Nice, try, but Google doesn’t “deprive” anyone of earnings. If anything, it would just change the market, so authors would need to adjust. However, back here in reality, many authors found that being in Google’s book search IMPROVED sales of their books, because it made their books easier to find. I’ve bought a bookshelf full of books thanks to finds via Google’s book search.

By all rights, Google and the book industry SHOULD enter into some sort of agreement to SHARE profits from advertising or some other fair mechanism to ensure that Google and the publishers and authors get something to cover their costs.

No, they shouldn’t.

Then all of us will benefit by having a wider choice of reading material for the price of having to endure looking at a few ads instead of chasing down rare books at a bookstore across the county.

Actually, you mean all of us lose, because we’re now paying more, getting fewer books, and it’s all under the control of one company. Sorry, that’s a losers game. Don’t be fooled into supporting it.

Link says:

Our Benefit

Although this can be seen as disappointing in the idealistic sense that Google no longer fights every case to the end. I argue that by settling, what would have been a multi-year legal joust, both the consumer and Google benefit. Many books that were unsearchable due to publishers protests will now be made available whereas they otherwise wouldn’t be until after this was settled.

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