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« What He Said | Main | Googlezon Down Under »

May 28, 2005

Googlezon Deconstructed

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Over at FindLaw, Julie Hilden has taken it upon herself to explore the theoretical implications of the much-discussed flash movie that predicts "Googlezon" -- that is, a future where Google and Amazon have merged, joining search capability with detailed, personalized knowledge of the user. Hilden argues that if something like Googlezon materializes, the current fuss over copyright infringement through filesharing will be very small potatoes indeed.

[As] I will explain in this column, it's very possible that equally - if not more - important Internet copyright issues may be on the horizon. Moreover, these issues may relate not only to how we get our entertainment, but also to how we get our news.

The issues are as simple and fundamental as they are troubling: Exactly how much content may be copied on the Internet - and of what kind -- before copyright is infringed? And more deeply, when is content "copied" in the first place when it comes to the Internet? Does the fact that the copying is done via a machine editor - not a human editor - make a difference?

Hilden suggests that if Googlezon's bots copy the best stuff from the Net, personalize and deliver it to you, it could create a compilation so attractive, you'd be tempted to give up ordinary newspapers and their online outposts altogether (many would argue we're well on our way). The question is, at what point will the bots become so good at what they do that a judge will feel compelled to protect the original sources?

Making compilations like this illegal, as copyright infringement, would challenge the status of a lot of traditional research - such as virtually any doctoral thesis, nonfiction book, academic paper, and on and on. For this reason, I agree with [Googlezon flash movie creators] Sloan and Taylor that the Supreme Court would likely rule for Googlezon - not "old media" - in its Supreme Court case.

But it's also possible the Court - or, ultimately Congress, in the wake of the Court's decision - would rework copyright in a way that better fits the Internet.

Like the flash piece, an intriguing thought experiment. Read the whole thing.

Previous related reading here @ Copyfight: Alan's Google's Scan Plan Draws Critics.

Update: More food for thought on Hilden's piece over @ Importance Of..., where Ernie Miller presses once more for the logic of focusing on distribution rights, not copyrights, for digital works:

Copies, copies, copies. That is sooo 20th century. Computers make copies, that is what they do. I imagine, but don't know the technical details, that Google's ginormous database of books has numerous complete copies of the works stored, and not just as backups, either. So what?

We can waste all our time trying to figure out how many angels dance on the head of a pin as develop archane rules on when copies are made and whether those particular copies violate copyright, or we can think about information as a flow, as a transfer, as a distribution.

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Big Thoughts


1. Asheesh Laroia on May 28, 2005 5:12 PM writes...

I can't view Macromedia Flash on my laptop because the company does not provide a Flash plugin for Linux on PowerPC. (My iBook runs Linux and is my primary computer.)

Is the movie available in a format playable by Free Software?

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2. Donna on May 28, 2005 8:47 PM writes...

I don't know...perhaps contact Robin Sloan?

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3. Branko Collin on May 31, 2005 3:58 PM writes...

First, the movie is laugh-out-loud bad. An awe struck voice talks about how Amazon was a store that could make recommendations ... like there aren't millennia worth of prior art. Then with the same awed quality it notes that Gmail provided you with a whole gigabyte worth of disk space back in 2004 ... like people won't have wads more memory than that in 2014. Just read the Hilden article.

It would strike me that copying a page out of a book is safe because you may win the court case using a fair use argument, not because it isn't infringement.

Hilden notes: "Copyright is meant, in large part, to protect the market for a given work, and thus to protect incentives to create new works. Yet allowing people to read (for free) a fact-stripping bot's compilation of news might undermine the market for newspapers and their online outposts. And that may lead newspapers to fight back in Congress for a broader version of copyright that would end, or limit, the reign of fact-stripping bots."

Copyright law is there to give an incentive to authors to create, but it doesn't say authors necessarily must create news papers. Other media have gone the way of the steam engine, and if news papers have been made redundant, overzealous courts should not extend their death struggle.

Which brings me to the question (perhaps I should have watched the movie after all): where will the content come from once the news papers are dead?

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