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Dana Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist for over 25 years and has covered the online world professionally since 1985. He founded the "Interactive Age Daily" for CMP Media, and has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age, and dozens of other publications over the years.
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October 21, 2005

Economic Lesson of Google Print

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Posted by Dana Blankenhorn

little red hen.jpgI have been reluctant to dive into the Google Print controversy because all the rhetoric is phony.

The rhetoric is about principles, fair use vs. copyright.

The reality is this is about money, about monetizing something that had no previous value and the obligation that places on the person doing the monetizing.

The plain fact is that everything Google has done, and everything Yahoo did before it, is based on monetizing fair use. The concept of fair use arose based on the idea it had no economic meaning, that it represented a necessary intermediate step on the way to meaning (and money).

But now we find, 10 years after the Web was spun, that fair use has enormous economic value. Through the magic of databasing, finding is now more valuable than having.

What then is the obligation of those who extracted this value to the holders of the data providing the raw material? The legal question has been answered, there is none. If publishers can stop Google from offering books online without payment, they can stop Google from linking to books without payment, because Google is only going to offer extracts that represent fair use free. It's the physical equivalent of the "deep linking" proposition we dealt with in the 1990s. If a book isn't read because it can't be located it makes no sound.

The moral question is something different entirely. If Google extracts a profit from Google Print, I think it does have a moral obligation to spend some of that money on activities that benefit writers and other content creators.

But moral obligations are not enforceable in courts. They can only be enforced through donations, through consensus after the money appears, and through the actions of those who made the money directed at the people who made that profit possible.

Lining up for money before the risk is proven is like the pig, the duck, and the dog lining up at the Little Red Hen's oven, waiting for bread, when she hasn't yet sown the seed. If publishers offered their help to Google, instead of their lawsuits, they might have some moral right to the bread coming out of Google's virtual ovens.

And the same attitude is hereby recommended to the rest of the copyright industries.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (1) | Category: Copyright | Internet | e-commerce | ethics | law | online advertising


1. Jesse Kopelman on October 21, 2005 12:35 PM writes...

Traditional publishing, be it writing, music, or video, is dead. It is based on the idea that there is considerable expense related to getting the content out to the public -- an expense that the content producer cannot bear himself. Because of the internet and peer-to-peer technologies, this paradigm is no longer valid. Publishers need to find new business models and seeking entitlements is no way to go about it.

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2. Rick Alber on October 21, 2005 01:09 PM writes...

Tim Wu has an excellent piece on the ramifications of Google Print on Slate at

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Hajrá Google Print! from szabad kultúra blog
A Google Print projektről már egy ideje akartam írni, ma reggel lett is volna időm, de a szerverünk bedobta a törölközőt és mcree kolléga egész nap a talpraállításán fáradozott. (Tehát nyugalom, nem tiltották be a Szabad kultúrát, ... [Read More]

Tracked on November 2, 2005 07:42 PM


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