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Google Talks A Good Game On Copyright

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Google will be one of the firms supporting a complaint to be filed with the Federal Trade Commission about sports leagues and other content companies violate copyright law and the first amendment.

Google Talks A Good Game On Copyright
Google Talks A Good Game On Copyright

When the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) drops its missive off at FTC headquarters today, some familiar names will be listed as supporting its listed complaints.

Google and Microsoft rank among the companies backing the complaint, the Wall Street Journal said in a report (free access, because WSJ.com almost always makes a Google-referencing article available outside its subscription firewall):

The group wants the FTC to investigate and order copyright holders to stop wording warnings in what it sees as a misrepresentative way.

“We look forward to receiving their complaint and reviewing it,” said an FTC spokeswoman.

Many warnings “materially misrepresent U.S. copyright law, particularly the fundamental built-in First Amendment accommodations which serve to safeguard the public interest,” the complaint alleges. CCIA President Ed Black said the warnings create a “chilling effect,” dissuading consumers from using portions of the content in ways that are lawful.

The report cited the familiar refrain heard during broadcasts of baseball or football games, where people are told they cannot disseminate accounts or descriptions without written consent. Movies, DVDs, and books all contain similar verbiage.

WebProNews publisher Rich Ord said this was hardly a new issue, based on his similar experience with linking to content over a decade ago:

When I launched NewsLinx in 1996 I was contacted by virtually every major news source claiming that I was infringing on their copyright by linking to their articles … Large old media publishers tend to ignore fair use when claiming copyright infringement … I agree with Google. However, with NewsLinx once I offered to stop linking to their articles, every publisher from the LA Times to the Wall Street Journal relented and gave me permission to link… as if I needed it!

It has been suggested already that the CCIA complaint could be little more than ceremonial chest-puffery. A copyright attorney cited in a CNet report said making copies of copyrighted content for someone else “has never been held to be legal.”

If that is the case, this could be another example of Google talking a good game without putting anything on the floor to back it up. Google already gave itself an out with the 700MHz wireless spectrum auction, and the conditions are in place for them to decline to participate.

As author J.D. Lasica noted in his book, ‘Darknet’, fair use has shrunk dramatically in the print world. Excerpt lengths have been challenged, and lawyers fear to tread too firmly upon the work of others. It’s a radical departure from times gone by.

FTC complaints aren’t the same as groundbreaking court battles. When Google or Microsoft or anyone else wants to really fight it out and secure defined fair use principles, not just concepts, that will be the moment worth watching.

Google Talks A Good Game On Copyright
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