Commentary

Google Missing the Mark on 'Don’t Be Evil' in Supreme Court Copyright Case

By Teri Christoph | March 25, 2020 | 11:47am EDT
The Google logo is pictured on a black background. (Photo credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)
The Google logo is pictured on a black background. (Photo credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)

Google has evolved into the poster child company for the 21st Century.  At first glance, it is the hip, trendy Internet startup founded in a garage with a geeky name. Dig a little deeper and you find a creepy, data-gobbling, transnational behemoth selling access to your wants, desires, and location, while violating the property rights of artists, authors, and software designers.

It began simple enough with a creative idea that resulted in innovative software. Google quickly dominated over other search engines and Internet portals. The chaos that is the Internet was now at our fingertips, as Google catalogued billions of webpages.

Anyone with an Internet connection can search for the information they desire. That is where it gets creepy.



 

Google grew into a nearly $1 trillion firm by allowing advertisers the opportunity to target its customers. As recently as 2017, Google financials report that it generates most of its revenues from advertising.

A surprising ad that matches a recent Internet search seems more curious than harmful at first. It’s much more nefarious than one would expect. Google collects data on billions of people every day. In addition to data that drives that curious ad you come across while browsing, Google collects health datalocation data, and data on children that use its products.

At the content end of its business model, where Google needs to drive traffic in order to collect data, Google found itself in legal trouble scanning books which infringed on the copyrights of photographers and visual artistsAuthorspublishers and newspapers all have issues with Google’s business model and have filed lawsuits to end the theft of their works.

As the “Internet of things” marketplace grew, Google looked to a new avenue to collect personal data with smart devices found in homes. It acquired a number of firms, including Dropcam, Revolv, Senosis and Fitbit. What it couldn’t develop, it bought, and what it couldn’t buy, it “borrowed.” 

The speaker company Sonos recently sued Google for stealing its technology that allows smart speakers to wirelessly play music in different rooms. There seems to be no idea big or small that Google won’t swipe in order to advance its own perverse ends of collecting more personal data.

As more Internet use moved from desktops to smartphones, Google saw its hold on customers' wants, desires, and location waning. The Big Tech giant needed to enter the mobile phone market that was dominated by Apple and Microsoft.

Rather than start from a blank page to compete with Windows Mobile and Apple iOS, Google looked to Java, which is protected by a copyright. Google negotiated for a license to Java, but wanted to ixnay the interoperability component of the Java license. Google sought to avoid a system where applications written for Android could work on Windows or Apple.

At that point, Google decided to copy 11,000 lines of Java software code and then used its considerable wealth to shop for a legal theory to the justify its theft. Due to the coronavirus, the Supreme Court delayed a scheduled Tuesday hearing of arguments in Google v. Oracle, where Java developer Oracle is expected to argue in favor of copyright protection for expressive and creative works, including computer software.

More than 30 organizations have filed briefs in support of Oracle and against Google at the Supreme Court. The long list includes songwriters, the recording industry, music publishers, journalists, news media organizations, book publishers, photographers, authors and the motion picture industry. But Google also has its fair share of support by tech companies like IBM and Microsoft, as well as a group of more than 150 computer scientists and intellectual property scholars.

Lower courts have thus far decided twice each in Google and Oracle's favor.

The Supreme Court has a chance to strengthen copyright law if it rules against Google’s theft of Java software. Strong copyrights promote innovation, creativity, and growth. The protection of intellectual property through copyrights encourages economic prosperity.

Twenty-two years after its founding, it’s clear Google has fallen way short of its unofficial mission statement “Don’t Be Evil.” The court should reject Google’s post-hoc attempt to erode copyright laws and steamroll away with copy-cat behavior.

Teri Christoph is co-founder of Smart Girl Politics, an online community for conservative women. She is a wife, mother, podcaster and aspiring entrepreneur. 



 

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