Google proves the adage that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. As the world’s most powerful company, Google already has what any corporation could covet. Most of the world’s internet users, publishers, merchants, advertisers, developers and governments depend on Google for its unparalleled information repository and computer network for accessing and manipulating most of the world’s information, content, data and maps.
In Australia, Google has 95 per cent of the search market.
Its database digitally stores by far the world’s largest amount of each of the following types of information: 60 trillion URLs (web addresses), two billion videos, 1.6 billion encyclopedic facts, 28 million miles of maps, 25 million books, 1.4 million Android apps, 75,000 news sources and publications and 1100 museum collections.
Apparently, having almost everything isn’t good enough for Googleopoly.
Now Google is twisting arms behind the scenes in Australia to gain the special protection of a so-called copyright “safe harbour”, to protect it from the legal liability of taking and profiting from copyrighted content without permission or payment.
It’s deviously Google-ian.
Copyright law is the original and real “safe harbour” here. The whole purpose of copyright is to incentivise and stimulate content creation and enable creators to monetise that content as they choose, not keep infringers safe from the legal consequences of their illegal taking of property without permission or payment.
What Google is really asking for is a permanent Monopoly-like get-out-of-jail-free card from the Australian government for its abundant past and future copyright infringements.
But it’s even worse than that.
For most of Google’s 19 years in business, it has been sued for profiting from mass, systematic theft of copyrighted property owned by at least 14 industries representing thousands of copyright owners and companies: business directories, wire services, newspapers, broadcasters, movie studios, publishers, authors, visual artists, software providers, photographers, artists, graphic designers, illustrators and filmmakers.
This is so wrong.
Rather than respecting others’ copyrights, as law-abiding, non-monopolist companies do, Google is asking Australia to pardon its past and future copyright kleptomania to deny forever others’ normal right to their day in court.
Would Australia consider a poaching safe harbour for Australia’s worst wildlife poacher? Or consider a pollution safe harbour for Australia’s worst polluter? Of course not.
The only reason Google has progressed this far is its unmitigated gall in publicly claiming that blanket immunity for copyright infringement is necessary to give Google the financial incentive to innovate.
Australian alms for the Google innovation poor?
Google doesn’t need Australia’s charity to innovate. Its $US590 billion ($768bn) market value is about half of Australia’s annual gross domestic product. To run its monopoly, Google spent $US70bn last year, about one-fifth of Australia’s federal government total spending. Its $US86bn in cash could fund the entire Australian government for three months.
When Google wants to innovate, it pays for it — because it buys companies. It has bought more than 200 companies so far.
Many of Google’s best known “innovations” are companies bought from others who did the real innovating: AdSense’s technology from Overture in 2004; Google Maps and Earth from Keyhole in 2004; Android mobile operating system software in 2005; YouTube video distribution in 2006; DoubleClick ad-serving in 2007; AdMob mobile advertising in 2010; Waze GPS navigation in 2013; Boston Robotics human and canine robots in 2013; Nest home automation, DeepMind artificial intelligence and Dropcam home monitoring in 2014; and Webpass fixed wireless internet service provider technology as well as Apigee API management last year.
If Google has paid more than $US10 billion to others for the right to use patented and copyrighted innovative property as its own, how can it now justify not paying for Australia’s copyrighted innovative property when it seeks to use it as its own?
This is Google making a naked power grab, because it can. It is treating Australia more like its digital colony than a sovereign country required to protect its citizens and their property from harm and theft.
Google is the world’s lone information superpower.
Consequently, it is telling how its power over the world’s information has corrupted how it values others’ content, which it wants to take for free and profit from as if it were its own.
It is equally telling to witness how Google treats those whom it perceives as less powerful than itself.
Australia’s government officials should beware of the name for Google’s business model: “Winner takes all”.
Scott Cleland is president of Precursor, a consultancy for Fortune 500 companies, some of which are Google competitors. He is author of Search & Destroy: Why You Can’t Trust Google Inc.
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