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Lawsuit Against Google Print: The End of the Internet?

Posted by: Rob Hof on October 21, 2005

Kevin Werbach has an alarming view of the lawsuit against Google Print by publishers, including BusinessWeek owner McGraw-Hill. I don’t know who’s on better legal ground, but Werbach notes:

On some level, copying a Web page to facilitate searching isn’t all that different from copying a book to facilitate searching. And copying an RSS feed to put content onto another site isn’t so different either. Unravel the notion that some content sharing benefits everyone, and therefore should be acceptable despite the nominal boundaries of intellectual property, and the Internet economy, especially the Web 2.0 economy, comes crashing down. … Years from now, will we look back at this as the period when the Internet came apart at the seams?

I don’t know, but a little knot in my stomach suggests it’s not a spurious concern. Let’s hope the two sides, each of whose arguments has shortcomings, realize at some point that there shouldn’t be two sides.

Reader Comments


October 22, 2005 9:33 AM

"On some level, copying a Web page to facilitate searching isn't all that different from copying a book to facilitate searching."
It seems to me that there is a fundamental difference - writers before and during the 20th century relied on copyrights to somehow profit from their writing, whereas the publishers of websites today create out of the expectation that their website will be in the public domain instantly, without any payments. It is this difference in expectations of the copyright holders that must be closely examined, and I don't expect the Internet to unravel over this conflict.

steve baker

October 22, 2005 11:27 AM

I think the problem is easily avoided. The crucial difference is that most web sites want to get picked up by Google. Some even hire engineers and consultants to boost their place on the list. So if it turns out that search engines don't have the right to copy Web pages and RSS feeds, then perhaps Web sites that don't want to be picked up by search engines will have the alternative to opt out. That wouldn't be so complicated, or calamitous.


October 22, 2005 4:37 PM

I'm very excited about Google Print from the standpoint of a researcher and consumer. I also understand the fears of the author in terms of the bottom line. I think Google Print should ask first about copyrighted works and then scan. Ultimately, if what they're doing is boosting the sales of an author's book, then everyone would want to be listed in their database.

Overall, I'm optimistic that a compromise will be reached.


Hussain Hyder Ali Khowaja

October 24, 2005 3:31 PM

To me it brings all the books to one platform at Google Print. It gives copyright as you cannot copy or print the webpage.

Secondly, it just gets the pages from various website into one particular standard. As it does not yet give complete books but it also help readers to select their books before buying.


Hussain Hyder Ali Khowaja

Wally Wagner

October 26, 2005 1:24 PM

Copyright use/abuse is pushing the legal limits online. Many hard working webmasters find that their site content has been stolen, scraped or reorganized elsewhere online. This is no different than publishing other copyrighted works, such as books, which should NOT be allowed to be copied online without the writer's permission. The solution to this problem is for Congress to define the term "fair use" when printing (online or off) portions of a copyrighted work. Also, penalties for reprint violations of copyrighted material should be the same whether the writer has filed his/her copyrighted material with the government or not.

Ray Gordon

November 21, 2005 12:51 PM

I filed a lawsuit against Google over its cache copies of my copyrighted (registered) website that contained some e-books which I had later put up for sale after having them free on the site. That case is Parker v. Google, E.D.Pa. #04-cv-3918, and a link to the pleadings can be found at

One problem with searching is that Google uses my free content to build its search engine, and then sell advertising to my competitors. By the time these users find my site, Google has had the first crack at them.

If Google is so useful as a search tool, then an opt-in policy should be adhered to. Even if Google wins its fair-use defense, it's not going to escape unscathed, because there will be hundreds if not thousands of "clones" who were waiting in the wings for legal clearance to do what Google is doing. To allow Google to continue with opt-out is to allow 1,000 other sites to do the same and remove a lot of the incentive to create works. Already, I've had to forget about the average reader and tailor my writing to the wealthy, which is exactly what copyright law is supposed to prevent, not encourage.

The real problem Google faces, however, is not from copyright infringement, but from a ruling in a defamation case in California, Barrett v. Rosenthal, where the lower courts have held that ISPs (or websites) can be held liable as a distributor for defamatory content published by a third party. This ruling sets California apart from every other jurisdiction in America, which has recognized a near-blanket immunity under 47 USC §230 (commonly called "section 230 imnmunity). If Barrett is upheld by the California Supreme Court and the US Supreme Court, it could expose Google to liability for many libelous statements contained in its archives. Often these statements have anonymous or foreign sources, making the original publisher impossible to sue, and in these cases, Google causes 99.9 percent of the damage, because an obscure blog posting that is viewed by a small audience winds up archived, and turns up when people like employers or dates or friends do a search on a person's name. Those who defame others often know this and use it to their advantage, while Google does nothing to stop them.

I've reached the point where I view people who brag about "Googling" other people the way I might view a collaborator with the Nazis. These people act like they are finding "information" about people, but that "information" is not verified, and frankly I don't need gossips and snoops in my life.


December 4, 2005 4:02 AM

ok. i finally can write down how i feel about this copywrite junk!!! some man out in california or some place stole ((( my family))) history...he is not part of our family, but he put his copy write on my sisters work! and some other people in my family...we were terribly upset at the time, but he got away with it,
but if that is the way it is then this is the way i am...i will snag, borrow, sneak, steal, what ever word you want to use...if it is on the internet then this is how everyone should look at it....we pay anyplace from 10.00 up per month to use the internet....ITS FREE!!!!!!

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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