I thought we were done with this. After cooler heads prevailed, and people realized that the giant conspiracy theory over “Google’s” supposed string pulling to get the Register of Copyright fired, actual reporters stepped in and discovered it wasn’t true. The reasons behind the firing were much more mundane (and for what it’s worth, one of our commenters has a credible explanation for how one longtime anti-Google propagandist was the key force in spreading the claim in the first place).
But, the Wall Street Journal (owned by News Corp — a company run by someone obsessed with made up stories about Google) has decided to try to put some legitimacy to the rumors by posting a ridiculous editorial fanning the already debunked conspiracy theory flames… but doing so in a hilariously uneducated fashion. Why, it’s almost as if they just decided “let’s bash Google” and didn’t have even the slightest underlying knowledge of the facts to make their case. It starts right up top:
Notice a problem there? Yeah, the WSJ editorial board doesn’t seem to know the difference between copyrights and patents. And yet it thinks it knows what’s going on. Okay, but you say that this is just in the subhead, and headline writers get this wrong all the time. Sure, but that doesn’t explain all the other fundamental errors in the editorial itself.
Most Americans think of Google as a search engine doing unalloyed social good, but the company also wants to make money and wield political influence along the way. So you don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to notice that an abrupt change of leadership at the U.S. Copyright Office is good news for Google, which aims to pay less for profiting from the property of others.
Actually, yes, you kind of do have to be a conspiracy theorist, because everyone who has any actual knowledge of what’s gone on has said it’s not even close to true. And furthermore, Google does not “aim to pay less for profiting from the property of others.” Whatever legitimate complaints plenty of people may have about Google, it’s focus is not on profiting off of others’ content, but in “making the world’s information accessible.” But, of course, to a company like News Corp that has failed to adapt to the internet, and which has directly branded Google as “the enemy” it’s no surprise that it would misrepresent what Google does and what it wants. But that doesn’t mean it gets to make up facts. Though it tries.
There is some circumstantial evidence that Google’s lobbying influence was brought to bear in removing Ms. Pallante, though both Google and Ms. Pallante declined to talk to us. Google’s business model is essentially making money off other people’s content, and the company’s strategy has been to infringe on copyrighted material like books and fight it out later in court. The copyright office administers laws that protect owners.
So, uh, once again we see the WSJ get basic factual things wrong here. “Infringe on copyrighted material like books and fight it out later in court.” An honest publication would point out that Google easily won its lawsuit at both the district and appeals court level, with both saying that Google’s actions were fair use and thus not infringement. For the WSJ to flat out lie and claim that Google was infringing is ridiculous. And suggests either a failure to understand the basics of copyright law, or a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts to slam Google.
And, once again, the claim that it’s Google’s business model to “make money off other people’s content” is not true. It’s not Google’s business models. Google’s business model is to capture people’s attention by providing a search engine that gets people to reveal their preferences — and then Google shoves ads that may be responsive to those preferences in front of them. Whatever you think of that business model, it’s not what the WSJ says.
Hell, if Google’s business model was really predicated off of making money on other people’s content, shouldn’t News Corp be beating the pants off them, since it has its own content first?
For example, Ms. Pallante’s office opposed a Justice Department interpretation of licensing that would have undercut collaborations. As it happens, that change was reportedly pushed by a former outside counsel for Google who had moved over to Justice. Ms. Pallante’s view won in court.
This is a part of the propaganda myth that’s made the rounds on a few sites. It ignores the fact that the fractional licensing debate was a big complex issue with many, many people arguing that the DOJ’s interpretation of the consent decree was correct. Yes, one of the people at the DOJ had a very loose connection in the distant past to Google, but the idea that the DOJ was making decisions for Google is made up out of thin air. Also wrong is the idea that “Ms. Pallante’s view won in court.” The challenges to the DOJ’s interpretation have just started. A judge has effectively put a hold on the interpretation for now, but it’s far from litigated.
Again, it’s as if the WSJ just got its talking points off of anti-Google conspiracy theory sites and ran with it, without bothering to check with anyone who actually understands the facts.
The conspiracy theories continue, trying to tie an offshoot Public Knowledge tweet into some sort of proof:
Something else happened in September: Ms. Pallante got a new boss when Ms. Hayden was sworn in as Librarian of Congress, a presidential appointment. Ms. Hayden formerly ran the American Library Association, which takes a permissive view of copyright law and accepts money from, you guessed it, Google. A month later Ms. Pallante was pushed out. The trade press had barely noticed the news when Public Knowledge tweeted: “Big news @CopyrightOffice today.”
Um. This is ridiculous. First of all, the ALA is a widely respected organization, not one driven by Google. And Hayden was President of the ALA in 2003 and 2004 when Google had zero lobbying presence and almost certainly no direct connection to the ALA. More than two years after Hayden was no longer at the ALA the NY Times was reporting on how Google was finally taking its first baby steps (awkwardly) into the world of DC politics. The claim that her Presidency of the ALA means she’s connected to Google is tripe.
As for the Public Knowledge tweet — the very first reporting on the Pallante news included the claim that Hayden had called various trade groups (focusing on the pro-copyright ones) to let them know of her decision before the news broke. Hell, even I heard about it before the news broke from a friend in DC (who’s not at Google and never worked for Google) who sent me a text message with the news about an hour before the news officially broke, and well before Public Knowledge’s tweet. That’s not evidence of a Google connection. That’s evidence that the news of change at the Copyright Office quickly spread among the various folks working on copyright issues.
The plot here is familiar. In 2012 Google’s deputy general counsel and head of patents, Michelle Lee, was selected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to run its Silicon Valley branch—and less than two years later President Obama nominated her to lead the U.S. office. This tilt of power was remarkable: Apple’s Steve Jobs had vowed earlier to go “thermonuclear” over disputes with Google’s Android. In a strange coincidence, many such disputes were soon settled.
No, it’s not. Yes, Michelle Lee used to work at Google. And yes, she went to the USPTO. And since there I think she’s been much better than her predecessor, but it’s not like she’s jumped on the anti-patent bandwagon or anything. The fact that Google’s patent disputes settled (which, uh, isn’t actually true) has nothing to do with Lee, who would have no power to get involved in litigation between two private companies over patents.
That’s not how it works. And if the WSJ editorial board spoke to any human being who actually understood how the system worked, they’d know that.
… anyone tempted to write off the Pallante dispute as bureaucratic squabbling should remember: The company’s goal is to defenestrate laws that protect property. The guarantee to own what you create is the reason entrepreneurs take the risks that power the economy—a reason guys like Larry Page and Sergey Brin start Google.
This is ridiculous. I’ve had plenty of conversations with policy and legal folks at Google working on intellectual property issues. And I’m much, much, much more open to the idea that we should drastically scale back those laws than anything anyone at Google has ever supported. The people I’ve spoken to at Google about these issues are mainly focused on making sure that copyright law doesn’t get in the way of an open internet, mainly because that harms Google’s search products, and not because of some innate desire to to “defenestrate laws that protect property.”
Sure, this kind of conspiracy theory may make sense for silly News Corp.-owned conspiracy peddling sites, but the WSJ is supposed to be about at least moderately competent journalism, right?