Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Is Google The Right "Person" For The Job?

Siva Vaidhyanathan and other copyright watchers have been following the Google Print lawsuit story for a while now. For the most part, the debate has revolved around "fair use" and whether or not Google is infringing upon the artificially granted monopolistic privileges (aka "rights") of the copyright holders. But there is a twist that many seem to be overlooking. A twist that I had mentioned on Lawrence Lessig's blog and a twist that Siva isn't overlooking. He says -
"Please remember that this company is unaccountable to everyone but its shareholders. It depends on things like DRM, trade secrets, proprietary code, vague privacy pledges, and non-disclosure agreements to make this project happen. How can I cheer this on?"
I couldn't agree more. Google's informal corporate motto of "Don't Be Evil" is irrelevant. Google is a for-profit corporation. This means neither good nor evil as Google's capacity for "personhood" exists merely in a legal sense. It's not that conscience is ignored, it's that it simply does not exist. This means an exclusive obligation to Google shareholders without any regard to stakeholders (i.e. the public). Google is driven - by law - to maximize profit for its shareholders. The question of "good or evil" entirely misses the point. That is, Google's actions will be driven by the legal commandment to increase profit. We are looking at a corporation structured to maximize profit yet in control of the largest digital database of knowledge and culture to ever exist.

Personally, I'm not against having an institution be granted the right to create such a database. But I'm wary about handing over such privilege and control to a body that is not working for the people. Should a corporation control what could potentially become the world's first digital library? What is the purpose of a library? Why do libraries exist? For who do libraries exist? If this project is to become a globally accessible library, should there be someone controlling your right to read?

As the database of books increases in size and therefore scientific and cultural value, is an unregulated for-profit corporation the best choice to manage and control that database?

I think not.

Update (Nov. 21/05): To be clear, I do believe Google should be allowed to create this database and build the technology to search snippets of it. However, the technology that Google uses must be regulated. Issues around market competition and user privacy are key here. Requiring Google to release patent-free code that interfaces with the database under a F/OSS copyright license will go a long way to benefiting the public. The rights over the database and its descendants must be examined closely as well.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

From your profile, you sound like another left wing nut. Sure wouldn't want you educating anyone I know.

Blogger Siva said...

Nicely stated. Thanks very much.

-- Siva

ps -- you can educate my children any time.

Blogger aNDy said...

I am really curious to know how "Anonymous" was able to figure out you are a "Left Wing Nut" from your profile!! Could he be in contact with the "West Wing"??? I wonder...

I think I'll need to have children soon so that you can educate them before you become senile :-)


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