EFF Attorney: Google Book Search Settlement Weakens Innovation

In an editorial in The Recorder, Fred von Lohmann of the Electronic Frontier Foundation says Google’s settlement with publishers and authors signals an implicit abandonment of Google’s legal team working on behalf of innovation across Silicon Valley:

.. By settling rather than taking the case all the way … Google has solved its own copyright problem — but not anyone else’s. Without a legal precedent about the copyright status of book scanning, future innovators are left to defend their own copyright lawsuits. In essence, Google has left its former copyright adversaries to maul any competitors that want to follow its lead.

Google will doubtless be considering the same endgame for the Viacom lawsuit against YouTube. If Google can strike a settlement with a large slice of the aggrieved copyright owners, then it solves the copyright problem for itself, while leaving it as a barrier to entry for YouTube’s competitors.

But when innovators like Google cut individual deals, it weakens the Silicon Valley innovation ecology for everyone, because it leaves the smaller companies to carry on the fight against well-endowed opponents. Those kinds of cases threaten to yield bad legal precedents that tilt the rules against disruptive innovation generally.

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