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Google sues tiny indie label

Woke up this morning, got the Goliath vs David Blues

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You might call this one asymmetric copyright warfare. Google, the $167bn internet company, is suing a tiny indie label that releases blues records.

Blue Destiny Records, based in Florida, first sued Microsoft, Google and porn hounds' favourite cyberlocker Rapidshare last December. Blue Destiny claimed Rapidshare provided "a distribution centre for unlawful copies of copyrighted works", and that the search engines were benefitting from the infringement. Blue Destiny withdrew its lawsuit in March. But that wasn't enough for Google.

Google has now sued the indie, asking a more friendly Californian court to provide a declaratory judgement whether links to cyberlockers constitute infringement. Victory would ensure a significant area of liability for Google would be removed. But even Reuters is moved to describe Google's response as "hubristic".

As well as drawing attention to the disparity in the resources available to Google and companies who depend on copyright - Google's annual revenue is larger than the entire global record industry - the aggressive litigation also sends out a message to copyright businesses that they should not dare to antagonise the internet giant.

The mood has changed significantly in recent months. While Google may win this court battle, it may be losing the longer, bigger war.

The trade unions have swung behind the creators, in the shape of the TUC-backed Creative Coalition Campaign in the UK, and the AFL-CIO in the US. The release of emails in the Viacom litigation showed Google executives burying their ethical reservations and buying YouTube anyway - so much for "Do no evil".

The shift is encapsulated in one particular tale.

In January, self-styled libertarian Lord Lucas tabled a number of amendments to the Digital Economy Act giving Google exactly what it's asking for in the blues label case. Lucas called the amendment 'Protection of search engines from liability for copyright infringement' and would have forced every publisher (professional or amateur) of any web page to grant search engines a "standing and non-exclusive license".

By March, Lucas had changed his mind. If dodgy cyberlockers were used mostly for infringing purposes, a responsible search engine shouldn't be promoting them.

"I do not see why search engines should not be able to block these things," he asked.

So you can see what's at stake.

Rather than mediating a settlement with aggrieved parties, Google is leaning on the law, which it hopes will provide it with a strictly literal definition of liabilities. This is a very American approach - politics is conducted through the courts - but it's one that antagonises almost everyone else. ®

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