Google and Your Content

The Official Google Blog has an interesting post today entitled “Our Approach to Content“.

Though the entry seems to have been designed to head off bad publicity over recent lawsuits regarding Google News and Google Book Search, it has several interesting points that Webmasters need to be aware of.

What Was Said

The crux of the Google post was its list of three principles in dealing with copyright matters. According to the post, they are as follows:

  • we respect copyright;
  • we let owners choose whether we index their content in our products;
  • we try to bring benefit back to content owners by partnering with them.

The first two are interesting because of the recent lawsuits against Google, at least one of which they have lost. While they are correct that, generally, indexing sites for search purposes has been found to be legal, there are copyright issues in their other services that clearly have not been resolved.

One would think that, if there were an easy opt out procedure the lawsuit over Google News would have never happened. If they respected copyright law, one would think that they would have won.

Still, from what I’ve seen, Google seems to be following those principles when it comes to their main search engine. Both indexing and caching are considered legal, they offer an easy opt out, respect robots.txt and offer various programs to partner with Webmasters, including Adsense.

Though Google’s “Don’t be evil” mantra may not be true to the hilt, it seems that with their core product and copyright, they at least aren’t the devil many make them out to be.

What Was NOT Said

What I find more interesting than the entry itself, which appears to be more of a PR move, is what was not said in it. There are several questions I have for Google that, so far, have gone unanswered.

  1. What are you doing to fight splogging and scraping? Microsoft recently released a white paper on fighting search engine spam. Google has been unusually quiet. Meanwhile, their Blogger service is the spam blogger’s host of choice, their search engine one of their biggest targets and their Adsense program one of their strongest revenue streams.
  2. How did Google reach its DMCA interpretation? Google’s interpretation of the DMCA, especially regarding the signature requirement in a DMCA notice, is unique to them. I would be interested in hearing how they reached those conclusions and what purpose such strict requirements serve.
  3. What new search technologies are they working on to fight plagiarism? For some time now much smaller companies have been able to search for duplicate text and images. Yet, right now, no such service exists on Google and most of the services that do exist are too expensive for Webmasters. In fact, one service, Copyscape, even uses the Google API to perform its searches. Why Google has not even attempted to step into this market is unclear

These are all content and copyright issues that involve Google that have gone largely unanswered. While it’s unlikely that Google will ever make a statement on these matters, especially the second, they are important issues for Google to address.

Conclusions

Google’s impact on copyright and content theft issues go well beyond their own direct use of our work. Decisions they make will impact us in ways they probably can’t envision.

It’s important that Google, as well as the other search engines, be allies in the fight against plagiarism and content theft. Without them, to say that we have an uphill battle is a grave understatement.

These questions, along with Google’s answers, will do much to shape the future of the Web. I can only hope that the balance is right and that everyone, publishers and viewers, get the protections that they deserve.

 

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