Google’s Amoral Greatness?

Update:  A Googley View of the matter:   Google speaketh o Copyrights

Often the weekend brings the best internet philosophy discussions and one is brewing today about whether Google is the good or bad guy in the content equation.    The answer in my opinion is that it is pretty nuanced and best seen as a series of  inevitabilities rather than points about fairness or best practices or who is doing what for whom.

Over at the Guardian the argument is that Google’s gotten out of hand and is running roughshod over anybody who stands in their profitable path:

…. one detects in Google something that is delinquent and sociopathic, perhaps the character of a nightmarish 11-year-old. This particular 11-year-old has known nothing but success and does not understand the risks, skill and failure involved in the creation of original content, nor the delicate relationships that exist outside its own desires and experience. There is a brattish, clever amorality about Google that allows it to censor the pages on its Chinese service without the slightest self doubt, store vast quantities of unnecessary information about every Google search, and menace the delicate instruments of democratic scrutiny. And, naturally, it did not exercise Google executives that Street View not only invaded the privacy of millions and made the job of burglars easier …

Meanwhile Mike Arrington disagrees – more accurately lashes out at the Google detractors,  suggesting:

Let’s all be clear here. What Porter and Bragg want is a subsidy from Google. A sort of welfare tax on a profitable company so that they can continue to draw the paychecks they’ve become accustomed to. That isn’t going to happen, and all this hand wringing isn’t helping to move their respective industries toward a successful business model. They either need to adapt or die. And they’re choosing a very noisy and annoying death.

Some truth to this but also pretty harsh given how disruptive Google’s been to the whole show.    Mike overlooks that the *single most disruptive act* in internet history was Google’s launch of Adsense, which monetizes content for all websites and more than any other single factor has led to an explosion of the spam, mediocre content, and some excellent content that has accelerated (though I think has not caused) the demise of legacy content providers like newspapers.

I said over at TechCrunch that:

Mike I’m not sure I agree with the analysis but here you’ve pulled together the “Google Goodness” argument about as cleverly and succinctly as it can be done.

I think a bigger perspective on this is far more nuanced.   The rise of Google search aggregation has in most cases diminished the average profitability of premium content.   It has slightly (but only ever so slightly) *raised* the tiny profitability of non-premium content such as the ocean of mediocre blog posts, stupid pet trick websites, and made for adsense efforts.    Something is gained as we move to a very democratic global publishing paradigm but also something significant is lost in this equation.   David Brooks of the NYT writes some brilliant stuff we need to hear in these challenged times.   He refuses to use Twitter.   Like hundreds of other bloggers  I write some political stuff too but few of my pieces are as informed as Brooks’ analyses.

However I’m happy to use Twitter and work for free.   I may win, but we all may lose something after the blogging and Twittering and Adsense dust settles.

6 thoughts on “Google’s Amoral Greatness?

  1. The other *big* point is that if you block the search engine from indexing your content then when someone else steals your work (and if it is good they will) then your content is still devalued by the set up, and its even more devalued because someone else is getting your exposure and your links for stealing your content.

  2. …. one detects in Google something that is delinquent and sociopathic, perhaps the character of a nightmarish 11-year-old. This particular 11-year-old has known nothing but success and does not understand the risks, skill and failure involved in the creation of original content, nor the delicate relationships that exist outside its own desires and experience.

    Yes. Google’s about like an online Standard Oil, or US Steel, JP Morgan, etc. (then so are yahoo, MSN, oracle, etc) Schmidt, Brin, Page reiterate Carnegies, Rockefellers, JP Morgan, etc.: they just use servers instead of factories.

    That said, the Feds and existing laws allowed the Search engine monopoly. Another de-reg phenomena. Do you blame the casinos, and casino owners, or do you blame the politicians who allow the casinos (not to say citizens who voted ’em in), or don’t really do anything to stop it? In a sense the politicians–and the system–as much to blame as corp. execs.

  3. Part of this debate is the same as that about guns. Is it fair to say “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” and also say “Google doesn’t devalue things, they just make it easier for other people to devalue your stuff” ? I think in some cases Google’s getting blamed for the inevitabilities of internet approaches to things.

  4. Google/Youtube has done some pretty sleazy things, as Porter notes:

    When the Performing Rights Society demanded more money for music videos streamed from the website, Google reacted by refusing to pay the requested 0.22p per play and took down the videos of the artists concerned.

    It does this with impunity because it is dominant worldwide and knows the songwriters have nowhere else to go. Google is the portal to a massive audience: you comply with its terms or feel the weight of its boot on your windpipe.

    Despite the aura of heroic young enterprise that still miraculously attaches to the web, what we are seeing is a much older and toxic capitalist model – the classic monopoly that destroys industries and individual enterprise in its bid for ever greater profits.

    I tend to agree with Porter’s analysis, though the existing law allows Google to exploit people–artists, especially–and make millions a month (or week, really) in ad revenue. At least the contracts could be more specified; yet many videos are posted without Artiste A’s approval.

    Some consumer X posts his favorite video moments from Steely Dan’s tour last summer, and he gets 10 thousand+ hits (or one million+–some of the hit counts are outrageous), and one of SD’s sideman–not exactly living in Malibu next to Britney, etc– says ah wants to be paid when people click on to that, or something. Usually Google just takes down stuff when there’s a problem, but it seems reasonable that artists should be paid when consumers click onto their product .

    Schmidt/Page/Brin of GoogleCo are filthy rich, beyond Carnegies, Mellons, JP Morgans, and as Porter notes, they do have a virtual monopoly. So why don’t the courts, or say Pelosicrats get involved? ( Mainly because they’re ….DINOs.). For that matter, Google (and other silicon corp. giants) contributed a lot of money to ObamaCo, so they’ve probably been given some type of immunity from anti-trust (at least Clinton’s boy tried to go after Microsoft, though they didn’t accomplish what they wanted to).

  5. ‘but it seems reasonable that artists should be paid when consumers click onto their product .’

    This depends on your point of view. If someone asked me to pay them a royalty because I was listening to their CD in my car with the windows down and people at the roadside heard it I would think they were a little out of order. If I was using their work in an enterprise of my own that was intended to make me money (even if it didn’t) then they would be justified in asking for dues.

    The fan at the Steely Dan concert probably ignored the T’s&C’s on the back of the ticket forbidding making sound or picture recordings to obtain their footage. This has been historically ignored and often interpreted as the use of ‘professional’ recording or camera equipment, implying an intention to sell the captured performance for personal gain. The tape recorder down the pants or compact camera is usually ignored as whatever results is unlikely to compete with anything the artist attempts to sell themselves or has licenced others to sell on their behalf.

    High-megapixel digital cameras in cellphones and miniature DV cameras and the like have changed that forever. Suddenly it is possible to obtain near-broadcast quality capture from simple consumer mainstream devices that can be carried in a shirt pocket. When that sort of footage starts showing up online you can bet the lawyers are going to take an interest.

    If it so happens that said footage is posted online on sites with banner ads, sidebar ads, targetted ads, more ads than you can shake a stick at, the lawyer is quite rightly going to conclude that someone is making money while people watch the unlawfully obtained work of his client. It would not be unreasonable in such a circumstance to expect to be able to query where your share is.

    Google (or whatever the accused website is) is likely to simply remove the content before being whacked with a DMCA and hope that does it. It probably can work out what clickthrough revenue was generated from the posted work but it knows once it begins to settle in such a way it will be fallen upon in a feeding frenzy. What we are seeing might be the beginning of that frenzy and may lead to the dissolution of the major media sharing sites, which would be a shame.

    Summing up, the real blame is on the person posting work they don’t actually have any right to claim copyright over, but it can probably be argued that the carrier (website) should require more proof than ‘please tick to confirm this is yours to give me’. If the original artist was fine with third parties filming them and allowing others to profit with no kickback to themselves they would not attempt to prevent people filming them in the first place. If the whole thing wasn’t so driven by advertising revenue it probably wouldn’t matter. The carrier themselves aren’t actually stealing work but they are conveniently failing to ensure that what they carry is legal.

    Google is a big business. They deal in advertising. There is such a potential conflict between this and ‘do no evil’ that it astonishes me people still parrot the line like it makes everything ok.

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