On Google and copyright

Kurt Sutter tried to talk rationally about Google and copyright recently in a post on Slate. It didn't seem to go particularly well, at least to judge by the comments.

One of the difficulties in trying to have a reasonable discussion about the positive aspects of copyright and Google in the same paragraph is Google's image as a do-gooder. And a lot of good has come out of Google, et al, in terms of searches and accessibility. (And as an obvious full disclosure: I use a variety of Google services everyday, including this blog.)

But the situation is much more complicated than it's often made out to be.


Everyone is aware that Google has done amazing things to revolutionize our Internet experience. And I’m sure Mr. and Mrs. Google are very nice people. But the big G doesn’t contribute anything to the work of creatives. Not a minute of effort or a dime of financing. Yet Google wants to take our content, devalue it, and make it available for criminals to pirate for profit. Convicted felons like Kim Dotcom generate millions of dollars in illegal revenue off our stolen creative work. People access Kim through Google. And then, when Hollywood tries to impede that thievery, it’s presented to the masses as a desperate attempt to hold on to antiquated copyright laws that will kill your digital buzz. It’s so absurd that Google is still presenting itself as the lovable geek who’s the friend of the young everyman. Don’t kid yourself, kids: Google is the establishment. It is a multibillion-dollar information portal that makes dough off of every click on its page and every data byte it streams. Do you really think Google gives a shit about free speech or your inalienable right to access unfettered content? Nope. You’re just another revenue resource Google can access to create more traffic and more data streams.

Sutter's article - which is an answer (more or less) to this one.

Sutter argues for voluntary agreements that might reduce traffic to pirate sites. I'm not sure what impact that will really have, but surely it's something worth trying.

It may be that we'll ultimately return to the situation of 15th and 16th century English poets - where writers and other artists earn their living by sucking up to rich patrons, rather than trying to attract attention and a few bucks from regular people.  Who knows - I prefer Shakespeare's plays to his sonnets, but not everyone would agree.

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