Google is undoubtedly one of the most important innovators of the last two decades. From streamlining the way we find things online to helping define the mobile market and making sense of all the data in between, there are few companies who have done more to develop a smart, efficient infrastructure for the digital world.

So with that storied hisory of inventive thinking – not to mention the hundreds of billions of dollars brought in on the back of it – why does Google’s innovation and flair for algorithmic solutions fail every time copyright comes into the equation?


It’s a question raised in David Newhoff’s excellent dissection of the Google Books legal case, in which he explains why authors are in favor of the innovation, yet opposed to Google’s plan to force them to waive rights and provide access to their published works for free.

The search giant’s stated objections are based on the difficulty of securing so many licenses for work under copyright, but as Newhoff neatly sums up:

“If you’ve got both the resources…to digitize every book on the planet, securing even a large number of rights should be a relatively minor function of the overall project.”

As the article states, Google processes 20 petabytes of data every day. If that term isn’t familiar to you, you’re not alone. It describes amounts of data so large that no average consumer, even those well versed in the latest tech, would readily be able to quantify it (1,000,000,000 megabytes, for you trivia fans).

In its lifetime, Google ‘s search service has developed from storage on ten 4GB hard drives in a Lego casing, to a vast network of data servers with over 100 million GB of data, spread across three continents. This is the operation that wants us to believe it can create a comprehensive digital library, yet can’t handle the logistics of licensing those titles with those who own the rights?

The same complaint can be extended to curbing copyright infringement in Google’s search results.

The company continues to drag its heels on almost every major anti-piracy measure, from preventing sites like Popcorn Time appearing in its results to ensuring that piracy by the backdoor on YouTube is handled as swiftly as direct uploads of content that infringes copyright.

This ongoing neglect of its responsibility to content owners, whose work Google’s profits are partially built upon, is made only more objectionable when the company plays dumb regarding its abilities. Any company that stands on innovation must apply that to every problem it faces, not just those that will make it some money.

No rightsholders have the vast resources of Google, nor are they asking for the kinds of profit the company sees. They don’t want to prevent Google from driving innovative projects forwards, nor do they object to it creating new initiatives based on their intellectual property.

All they want, whether in the case of authors asking for compensation from Google Books or artists asking that Google search does not enable piracy links to be even more visible, is to see intellectual property respected. If a piece of content is under copyright, make sure that the source is legal and the work has been licensed for use. Google would ask the same for its unique algorithms and anything it has patented, so  why should the situation be different for original music, movies, books, or any creative work that should be protected under copyright law?

Far from being a question of creators standing in the way of innovation, this is a case of Google’s selective application of that very trait. Armed with the right motivation, be it profit or a potential penalty from a court of law, you can be sure Google would quickly find the resources and innovation to curb piracy or compensate authors.