Saturday, January 24, 2009

LA Times examines Google lobbying agenda: what about copyright?

The "Oh my God! Google has Washington lobbyists!" story is a staple of modern political journalism. Today the LA Times weighs in with its own contribution to the genre, telling us that in the age of Obama:
At the top of the company's policy priorities are two that consumer advocates largely champion. First, it wants to expand high-speed Internet access so people can use its Web services more often. It also is pushing for so-called network neutrality: prohibitions on telecommunications companies charging websites for faster delivery of their content.
The Times also correctly points out that Google will have to fight legislative and regulatory battles over data privacy and antitrust concerns sparked by its large share of the online advertising market.

What's interesting to me is what's missing from the list of Google's priority list (at least at relayed by the Times): no mention at all of copyright or other forms of IP. It's not as if IP issues aren't hugely important to Google. Many of its most fundamental practices -- everything from indexing and caching web pages, to hosting and streaming YouTube videos, to displaying headlines and ledes of stories on Google News, to selling ads triggered by searches for trademarked "keywords" -- could be deemed illegal in a flash under adverse interpretations of copyright or trademark laws. True, most of the action on these issues is in the federal courts (where Google has been largely successful in fighting off challenges to its IP practices), not Congress or the agencies. But copyright and trademark are also creatures of statute, and Congress can change those statutes as it chooses.

To vastly oversimplify, Google thinks it should be allowed to copy whatever it wants on the web and sell ads against it; copyright owners say, "Over our dead bodies." That disconnect is going to spark a lot of major IP battles over the next decades. Google is smart to hire a lot of lobbyists -- in addition to lawyers -- if it wants its business model to survive.

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