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Behind Google’s Copyright-Bills Hysteria

Though the final chapter in the legislative
history of the copyright bills hasn’t yet been written, a couple of things are obvious even now: The tech industry
has demonstrated great political clout through the mobilization
of its user and fan base; and the industry
lobby, led by Google, will say and do pretty much
anything to advance its commercial interests.

This provides the background for what happened
within just a few days earlier this month,
as Congress was flooded with calls and mail, and
petitions were signed by millions, in opposition
to bills whose intent was to provide an effective
way to combat content infringement on rogue
websites abroad.

Didn’t matter that most fans of social media,
file-sharing, blogs, and the like know next to
nothing about communications policymaking,
or even the details of the laws they were moved
to oppose. They know what they like and dislike,
and when manipulated into seeing the copyright bills as a
threat, they responded in great numbers.

None of this, of course, is to wonder why people feel more
of a kinship with things like the social media than they do
with the mainstream media. The one-way and “one-to-themany”
aspects of the old media don’t empower people, or
allow for their personal expression in the manner of blogs
or social media like Facebook and YouTube.

But the reason so many people were disposed to dislike
the copyright bills, and their knowledge of what was actually
in them, are two different things. What moved them to
act on their dislike was yet another. For these parts of the
story, we have to look to the tech-industry lobby, and Google
most importantly. It was Google that floated the canard that
passage of the bills would forever change “the Internet as
we’ve known it.”

The irony in Google’s claim was apparently lost on most
of the media, tech and mainstream, which may explain why
so few reporters pointed out that this alleged threat is wordfor-
word what the company said, 13 years ago, in opposition
to another copyright bill (the Digital Millennium Copyright
Act), passage of which has since proven to be a positive
boon to Internet companies.

It may also explain why so few reporters pointed out
that Google’s claims about the copyright bills — as precursors
to the regulation of the Internet —
are not just over the top, but hypocritical. It
was, after all, Google that successfully lobbied,
with the active help of a majority of
FCC commissioners, for so-called “network
neutrality” regulations, the precedent of
which provides not for just speculative but
“here and now” regulation of the Internet.

Still, if crass exaggeration and hypocrisy
were all that Google displayed in this regard,
one might be inclined just to dismiss it
as boys being boys. But it didn’t stop there.
Google, and other groups that should know
better, also gave expression and currency to
the bunkum that the copyright bills amounted
to an assault on the First Amendment.

That this argument was utterly demolished by the
country’s leading First Amendment expert, Floyd
Abrams, didn’t give them a moment’s pause, with the
upshot being that this nonsense was parroted by all
sorts of people as a reason for rejection of the bills.

In August of last year, The Media Institute filed a
white paper with the Federal Trade Commission titled
Google and the Media: How Google is Leveraging its Position
in Search to Dominate the Media Economy
. Among
other things, the paper demonstrated the ways in which
Google profits from copyright infringement.

Though the paper didn’t recommend any particular
remedy, it asked the FTC to intervene in a way that would
prevent the media economy from being dominated by a
single entity. Google’s conduct regarding the copyright
legislation shows that, far from pulling back, its interest
in this kind of domination is growing apace.

Patrick Maines is president of the Media Institute. This
piece first appeared Jan. 25 in

the Dallas Morning News.