Technopanic and bad laws

Jeff Jarvis has covered German publishers’ efforts to prevent Google and other search engines (but mostly Google) from linking to their publications and quoting snippets of their content unless a Google pays for the privilege.

These publishers seem to be ignoring the fact that Google sends a substantial amount of traffic to them in the process, at least in public discourse. Jarvis’ post titled “Oh, those Germans” summarises the German offensive and how they have, essentially, backtracked because they didn’t seem to anticipate what the effect of Google not linking to their publications would have on their bottom lines. He also quotes from a longer essay he wrote which nicely captures the broader implications of these sorts of campaigns:

I worry about Germany and technology. I fear that protectionism from institutions that have been threatened by the internet — mainly media giants and government — and the perception of a rising tide of technopanic in the culture will lead to bad law, unnecessary regulation, dangerous precedents, and a hostile environment that will make technologists, investors, and partners wary of investing and working in Germany.

German publishers may be leading the charge but I don’t think this will stop there. It is only a matter of time before similarly myopic content owners will attempt to prevent Google and similar companies from leveraging their content for mutual benefit. This sort of approach is already prevalent in the entertainment industry which has only recently begun to explore better business models.

The risk of “bad law, unnecessary regulation” is especially worrying because legislators tend to operate in extended timeframes, create impractical laws that are technology-specific and, increasingly, too rigid to be practically useful in an environment which is remarkably dynamic.

Hopefully the industry will self-correct, even if it blames its villain for its back peddling.


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