October 24, 2005
Donna’s got the links, all very worthwhile.
In my last post on Google Print, I disagreed with Patrick Ross’
comparing P2P and Google Print. I wrote that I wished such
comparisons would be purged from the Google Print debate, and linked to
an earlier post by Siva. In response, Siva dropped me the following
“Google Print/Library does lead us to
ask that question, not just because of the ‘snippet/entire work’
distinction. It’s because of the power of the players and the magnitude
of the project. This is heavy stuff.
“Basically, I am making the point that
all that hype about p2p being a ‘copyright meltdown’ was bluster when
compared to the gathering storm over this thing.”
Siva makes a fair point – his comparison to P2P is not about
Napsterization or Patrick’s point, and my linking to him didn’t clearly indicate
that. Sloppy drafting on my part.
Regardless, I was trying to group his point about P2P with Patrick’s
because, though they’re certainly distinct, I think they’re ultimately both
These days, any time a comparison is made to P2P of almost any kind,
many people have knee jerk reactions and resort to firmly entrenched
battle stances. Those interested in having
serious discussions about the future of copyright must work very hard
to keep that tarpit of a debate about P2P from infecting all other
issues – debates not only about Google Print, but also about podcasting
and me2me technologies, for instance. I for one don’t
want to relive the debate about P2P over and over again – it’s like
Groundhog Day only without Andie Macdowell.
Siva gets this. In fact, he worries that
Google Print will cause a “copyright meltdown” by encouraging copyright
holders to run screaming to Congress, which will inevitably provoke bad
legislation. His fear is that this copyright battle is happening
too soon for people to resolve potential conflicts well.
But if that’s the worry, then the comparisons to P2P even in Siva’s
form seem counterproducive. It won’t lead to reasoned debate –
whether intended or not, it’ll lead to more people thinking
of this in terms of Napsterization, or, at least, damage to the
copyright system on a potentially massive scale. If you’re
worried about copyright holders
freaking out about this project, we shouldn’t be the ones encouraging
set their hair on fire and go running to Congress.
That’s a rhetorical point. I also disagree substantively with Siva
that this will cause a “copyright meltdown.” If Google wins, how
is copyright necessarily going to stop functioning? Or, rather, how is
it going to start functioning in a massively different and bad
way? If Google loses, why does that necessarily mean a massive
shift in copyright? I know Mike Madison has called it “bet
the Internet” litigation, but there are a lot of ways for Google to
lose narrowly – I think C.E. Petit points the way to a few.
Saying that Google Print deals more with the “metaphysical crux of
copyright” than P2P seems potentially overstated. The Napster
case did indeed deal with direct infringement. Moreover, P2P
cases cut right to the transformation of the role of intermediaries – more narrowly, publishers – in the copyright system.
Yes, it’s a fair use case with very important players involved. Yes, it
could make incredibly important law. But the “bluster” about P2P
was about the severe danger to the future of copyright and
innovation. Siva’s saying that the danger is more severe. I still
don’t quite see it.
Again, Siva’s real fear appears not to be the meltdown caused by Google
Print the case, but what he speculates will come after. When I
look at the Google Print case, I say “game on”
– I see a chance for a legitimate defendant to take a real shot at
making some good law. There’s broad and even unexpected support
for what Google’s doing. A strategy of just patiently waiting on
sidelines, to try to hold Congress off, seems potentially very
damaging. I don’t know how it’s productive to copyfight that way
Grokster not have been fought, because if we had clearly won, the
Act would have passed?
I respect Siva in general and for his willingness in this context to disagree with
others who typically share his views. But I think pushing this
point of copyright meltdown is both rhetorically and substantively
inappropriate. I look forward to hearing more from Siva in his
forthcoming articles on both these subjects.