“You can make money without doing evil.” So goes Google’s corporate philosophy, apparently informing its mission to “organise” the world’s information and make it accessible to everyone.
It certainly makes money. The Californian web search business notched up revenues of just under $US50.2 billion last year, and $US10.7 billion profit.
It has also hit the nail on the head when it comes to organising the internet. The reason the company dominates search, with more than two-thirds of the market, is that it is so very good at serving up the information that people want. Microsoft’s Bing and AOL barely compete. Meanwhile, it is also doing its level best to pull in all the information that is not already on the web.
However, whether Google continues to make money by purely doing good is somewhat trickier to judge. “Google is at least a two-headed beast. There is good Google and bad Google,” says the head of one trade organisation that regularly clashes with the company. A lot of such incursions in the United Kingdom are with creative sectors, such as the music, book publishing and film industries, which depend on copyright laws for their income.
These industries would have you believe that Google is making inroads into them by making it far too easy to access illegal downloads, with no thought for the business models that make it possible to produce records by Adele or novels by Hilary Mantel in the first place.
“Copyright is the lifeblood of the creative industries – it’s what allows music companies to fund the development of new artists and so contribute to Britain’s rich culture. Weakening copyright at the behest of technology companies will only benefit Britain’s competitors,” says Geoff Taylor, the chief executive of BPI, the music industry trade body.
But for those who are on the opposing bench, who support Google, the creative businesses are simply stuck in the past. The world has changed. If it has become too easy for people to find and steal pirated content, then business models must adapt too. Google acolytes claim that the company has become a cipher for the thing the creative industries actually fear most: the internet.
It is perhaps no coincidence that the music industry, one sector badly affected by the advent of the internet, is perhaps most exercised about the Google threat. Over the past month, Parlophone, the record label behind Coldplay, has launched a boycott of Google’s “scan and match” cloud music service.
Such an argument will be familiar to Ed Vaizey, the Culture Minister who has spent the past 18 months or so attempting to broker some sort of resolution between the two camps.
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