Search Engines vs. “Content producers”

So, a porn company called “Perfect 10” sued Google for including them in search results. Shocking, isn’t it. Detail are given by Marc Gunther at Fortune. In his musings, he seems to think this a good thing. For some reason, people seem to be upset at search engines (and Google being the 800 pound gorilla, it is the target of choice) for making money from “their” content.

To me the first question is “so what”? Why should I care that you make money from my work. It depends on how you do it. If you take my physical property and sell it, you’ve done me wrong. In this case you have stolen from me. But what about linking to my site, where I put “content”? Does that cause me harm? By itself, no it does not.

After all, Google is essentially advertising for us. Whether or not I even try to make money from my writings, software, etc. is irrelevant. They are not selling my work. I put my work on a publically available space and did so knowing this. consider an alternative: can I prevent you from showing the pictures you took of my car at the autoshow? No. Even if you profit from them? No. The history of automobile magazines will bear this one out.

Specifically, the said company had this problem:

Perfect 10’s lawyers argued that the thumbnails, which it notes are quite a bit larger than the average thumbnail, have value to the magazine because it sells small images to a British cell phone company.

Did they put the pictures on the Internet where anyone can see them? Given that Google does not search protected sites, I would say they had to have, unless Google indexed the content from some else who would have been the infringer. Putting content and pictures on the web w/o protection (such as a password) is very much like driving your car on the street versus driving your prototype on private property behind walls to prevent people from seeing it.

They want to claim that since they sell thumbnails of their images to cell phone users, Google is harming them. By putting their pictures up where anyone can get them, they harm themselves – assuming there is harm. Their lawyer makes a comment about selling stuff that is free. Yes, selling pictures I can get for free is a problem for your business model. So don’t put them where I can snag them myself. The fault is theirs and Google, Yahoo, etc. should not have to pay for it.

In another case Marc mentions:

Agence France Presse (AFP) is charging that Google News infringes on its copyright by displaying headlines, thumbnails and story leads without permission.

So again we have a “content producer” (actually a mere publisher, but I’ll leave that nit alone for now) complaining that Google made it easier for me to find them. Going further, their lawyer states:

“If people can just take your headlines, who needs to subscribe to AFP’s headline service?,”

Indeed. Yet again, I take note that AFP put these headlines out for the world to see. Again the problem/mistake is on AFP’s side, not Google’s. The further question here is: Why should I pay for AFP’s “headline service” If I can write a quick script that will extract these headlines from their website and send them to my phone w/o paying AFP? Is that legal? You bet it is. Is it immoral? Nope. Again, they posted this information, in full knowledge and intent, on a publically available website.

Here is another one:

Authors and publishers object to a Google venture called Book Search, an ambitious attempt to scan the contents of several university libraries and make them available for search. The search results will display only a few lines of copyrighted works, which Google says is fair use. But publishers and authors say that Google has no right to scan entire works without their permission, even if only portions are displayed.

In particular note the emphasis I added. Oh really? Since when does someone who acquired the book legally have any limitations on how they read it? Google is displaying text well within the fair use clause, and even scanning the book is fair use. I have considered scanning many of my books, but haven’t had the heart to cut their spines open to do it. Why? Backup and availability for one. If I had a private URL in which I could access my books from anywhere with a net connection, I’d be a much happier man. Further note that authors can opt out of this free advertising service google is providing.

In closing, Marc comments:

But I make a living by writing, and it’s plain to see what the Internet is doing to print media. Google News is a computer program. Real news gathering requires reporters and editors. The guys behind the Perfect 10 lawsuit may be doing the other media companies a favor.

I couldn’t disagree more. First, he has a problem with what “the Internet is doing to print media”. The Internet is “doing” nothing to print media. At least, nothing the printing press didn’t do to monks and oral traditions. The Internet is a rapid response and rapid content delivery mechanism. Print is not. From the seeming aeons it takes to layout and publish a magazine or newspaper in just the right way to hack me off that I have to jump around to follow a story to the interminable hand wringing over what to run when, Print Media is doomed with or without Google, Yahoo, and anyone other search engine.

If anything, these companies are doing a massive disfavor to media of any kind. Should Marc ever read this blog, I’d hope he considers the fact that I’ve provided some minimal amount of exposure to him and his work. Exposure he admits to paying other people for.

Google obeys robots.txt files. These are files a competent webmaster uses to prevent certain pages from being indexed by automated machines. Clearly, not even this minor level of effort is acceptable to these companies. Absurd, IMO.

Essentially what is going on is that some people figured out how to make money using the Internet, and some have not. Those who have not are pissed off and suing those who have, a time honored tradition in mankind’s history. For years so-called “content producers” have been complaining that the entrenched distribution industry gave them a royal shaft. They couldn’t afford to go it on their own, they claimed, because “marketing” was too costly if nothing else. So along comes a means of distribution that is relatively easy and cheap (digital internet distribution), and it is praised as a godsend for “the little guy”.

Then to make it better, along come big search engines that make it easier for said “little guy” to market his content, to get noticed, to reach his market. And what happens? People get hacked off. But notice who is suing.

Is it the photographer? No. Is it the author? No. it is smallish publishers making stupid decisions. They blame Google, but where is the underlying “problem” they face? We don’t need them as much anymore. And they are beside themselves with apoplexy. To his credit, Marc isn’t one of them, he only wonders and has some concerns. Fair enough. But notice again, he isn’t the publisher. He is an author.

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