Google May Not Be Evil, But It Sure as Hell Isn't Interested in Free Speech

Google's tiff with Warner Music shows its commitment to free speech is only a marketing ploy.

By + More

By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

The fight between Warner Music and Google may at first seem like a battle between the merely rich and the ridiculously wealthy.

As the New York Times points out today, the Warner group has been reminding Google that, when it comes to music videos on its YouTube site, there is still such a thing as copyright law.

This is an inconvenient fact that the dreamy "information on the Web shall be forever free" folks, and the evil Silicon Valley suits who exploit them, like to forget.

YouTube earns hundreds of millions of dollars for Google. The artists who make the videos that lure the viewers deserve a chunk of that money.

In response to Warner's complaints, YouTube has been yanking not just the professional videos that Warner is seeking to protect, but also the amateur stuff that makes YouTube so endearing.

I find it hard to believe that Mighty Google, King of Search Engines can't figure out a way to differentiate between the professionals, and the amateurs who lampoon and imitate the pros and are generally protected under the First Amendment.

It looks more like Google and Warner are in a game of chicken, each hoping that the other gets the blame for depriving YouTube fans of popular content.

Don't get me wrong. Record companies have a long history of ripping off young musicians. And as an historian, I love Google.

Last week, when I hit a roadblock in my research on Clarence Darrow, I turned to Google Book Search. Without leaving my chair, in about an hour, I was able to resolve a mystery that, in the old days, might have taken a week of my time in the stacks in the Library of Congress.

As a writer (a class of folks whose greatest fear is to be ignored), I appreciate the fact that my 2001 biography of Tip O'Neill, instead of slipping into oblivion, lives on in a searchable format on Google, and as a "Look Inside!" book on Amazon.

Everybody wins. My work gets promoted, my research and scholarship live on, my publisher earns a few cents, and journalists, historians, and students around the world can read all about Tip whenever they need to.

Yet Google had to be dragged, at legal gunpoint, into the deal with the publishing industry that protects authors.

If Google would admit that it's just another rapacious capitalist entity, like Warner, fine. But Google claims to be something better. And it's the way it cloaks its own commercial interest in Free Speech warbling about the Web that I find insincere, and irritating.

On Facebook? You can keep up with Thomas Jefferson Street blog postings through Facebook's Networked Blogs.

  • Read more by John Aloysius Farrell.
  • Read more from the Thomas Jefferson Street blog.
  • Read more about Google.