US News & World Report: "Google May Not Be Evil, But It Sure As Hell Isn’t Interested in Free Speech"

There’s a great piece on the US News & World Report blog by the well-respected author and journalist John Aloysius Farrell that must make Google count the days until it’s driven all newspapers out of business. The piece is remarkable because it is (A) published in a major media outlet, (B) finds a pattern of copyright infringement by Google, and (C) is critical of Google. Wow. Mr. Farrell joins a short list of articles.

In commenting on the latest collision between the Leviathan of Mountain View and the human rights of creators, Mr. Farrell notes that “…the Warner [Music] [G]roup has been reminding Google that, when it comes to music videos on its YouTube site, there is still such a thing as copyright law. This is an inconvenient fact that the dreamy ‘information on the Web shall be forever free’ folks, and the evil Silicon Valley suits who exploit them, like to forget….The artists who make the videos that lure the viewers deserve a chunk of that money.”

Almost right. The artists who make the videos don’t just deserve the money, they are entitled to that money. They have a legal right to determine the price and to be paid. They also have a right to get a straight count out of YouTube’s questionable accounting systems. Artists and copyright owners also have the right to withhold their works as they wish. These are their economic rights. As Professor Alchian observes, economic rights are human rights. Google’s commerical interests trump any concern about human rights of political activists in China, and they are certainly not interested in the human rights of creators.

Mr. Farrell correctly notes that it is “…hard to believe that Mighty Google, King of Search Engines can’t figure out a way to differentiate between the professionals, and the amateurs who lampoon and imitate the pros….It looks more like Google and Warner are in a game of chicken, each hoping that the other gets the blame for depriving YouTube fans of popular content.”

Again, almost right. I find it hard to believe that any record company thought they’d be subjected to public ridicule by Google and its amen chorus if the record company didn’t renew Google’s license. Note that this doesn’t seem to happen to any independent artist who sends a DMCA notice that Google complies with. It is well for anyone negotiating a term agreement with Google about anything to take careful note of how Google treats “partners” who don’t give them what they want. This is a good reason not to get into business with them at all. Recall that Warner Music Group was the first in on deals with YouTube when YouTube was very unpopular with the creative community. And this is how Warner are treated.

Of course, when individual artists are confronted by a company like Google that raises vast amounts of capital from the public markets to commoditize the creators’ rights and vastly outspend them on litigation, there are precious few ways for creators to resist, particularly if their government ignores the attack.

As readers of The Register will know, Mr. Farrell and I differ on his support for Google Book Search, but he correctly notes that whatever the beneficial value of Google’s scanning, “…Google had to be dragged, at legal gunpoint, into the deal with the publishing industry that protects authors.” (A lot of people don’t think it does protect authors, and actually is an example of what happens when a public company goes after creators in litigation.)

“If Google would admit that it’s just another rapacious capitalist entity, like Warner, fine. [Those of us who remember Mo Ostin and the Warner Bros. Records pro-artist culture have a hard time with that statement.] But Google claims to be something better. And it’s the way it cloaks its own commercial interest in Free Speech warbling about the Web that I find insincere, and irritating.”

It’s called Newspeak. You remember–War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.

And Google is not evil.