Microsoft Attacks Google On Copyright -- Statements Will Come Back To Haunt Microsoft

from the not-such-a-good-idea dept

The press is having a field day over the fact that a Microsoft lawyer is trashing Google's position on copyright. These weren't offhand statements made in passing either -- but a clear statement from the guy that was released to the press a day before he actually plans to make the speech. It's clearly an attack, but it's an incredibly poorly aimed one, and it's likely to come back to hurt Microsoft a lot more than it helps them. The attack is pretty typical of the various attacks on Google concerning copyright from other corners. It suggests that Google's book scanning project somehow violates copyright law and then in an odd tangent tries to link the copyright issues of Google Library with YouTube. There are a variety of problems with this, and you would think that a practicing lawyer would understand them. These arguments sound like they come from someone in marketing, with no actual understanding of either the law or the technology being discussed. While it's still being debated in court, there is pretty strong support suggesting that what Google is doing in its book project is completely legal. It really is no different than what Google (or, for that matter, Microsoft) does with the web: creating a huge index of the content to make it more easily accessible. If Google's book scanning project is found to violate copyright, then Microsoft may be in a lot of trouble as well, as it will effectively outlaw Microsoft's search engine also -- and with it, plenty of the benefit that the internet provides.

Second, tying Google's book scanning project to YouTube makes absolutely no sense, and is clearly used just to get attention. The situations are completely different. In the book scanning project, it's Google putting the content up on the site. With YouTube, Google is simply acting as a platform. As a lawyer (especially one working for a tech company) you would think that he would understand that the law very clearly protects service providers from what its users do -- and for a good reason. I'm sure Microsoft wouldn't be at all happy if it were suddenly liable for every defamatory message sent using its Hotmail service. Yet, if Microsoft's lawyer is right that Google is liable for copyright infringement on YouTube, then certainly Microsoft is liable for defamation via Hotmail. This argument will come back to bite Microsoft at some point.

Overall, the speech really doesn't make much sense from Microsoft's standpoint. It's clearly a pre-meditated media attack on Google, who Microsoft sees as a major competitor. But the arguments are incredibly weak, and can be equally applied to Microsoft. It also ignores increasing evidence (as was predicted) that Google's book scanning project is actually helping to sell more books. So the whole situation reflects incredibly poorly on Microsoft. Microsoft does little to no damage to Google, because most people recognize the arguments are weakly argued and supported -- and then it opens itself up to problems in the future when it needs to defend these statements over its own actions. It's not at all clear why Microsoft would do it, but it's not in the company's best legal, marketing, business or technological interests.
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  1. identicon
    Fred Garvin, 6 Mar 2007 @ 9:42am

    Increasing Book Sales Does Not Justify Copyright I

    Funny to read all of the experts above. The fact is that Google has some real issues with their scanning project, and it is an open question as to whether that will ultimately be held to infringe. In any event, the fact that the project is increasing book sales has no bearing on the infringement question. The owner of a copyright in a creative work does not give up his or her rights to any yoyo who has a scheme that will increase sales of that work. Even if we conclude that Google's book scanning project is, overall a good thing for society, that alone does not make it legal.

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