James Governor's Monkchips

Open Content Alliance = Google’s Passport Hailstorm

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The Open Content Alliance is a community-based alternative to the mooted Google Library. The EU is building its own archive. India too.

From my perspective the factors driving the creation of the OCA were very similar to the backlash that scuppered Microsoft’s Passport initiative back in 2001, and created the Liberty Alliance, “150 Global Organizations Working Together to Build a Trusted Digital Ecosystem”.

Where is Google? It wasn’t invited, I assume. If you threaten people instead of talking to them its surprising, isn’t it, how they start trying to sue you and stuff? Business models are of course going to change dramatically in the next few years, but sometimes you have to work with incumbents, many of whom are frightened by change. Of course many of the incumbents are total idiots – step forward the RIAA and MPAA as exemplars.

I know that a great many people I respect are on Google’s side in this affair. People like Tim O’Reilly.

Tim’s position is that all the world’s content needs to be opened up in a hurry:

That’s precisely why Google’s opt-out position is exactly the right one. If we were to wait for publishers to opt in, only current, in print works would get into the index. With opt out, the interests of the public, the authors, and the publishers are all protected. 

But you know what – I strongly believe in some rights reserved. Its why I believe in the creative commons – because the author, if a work is in copyright, should be in a position to establish ground rules for how content will be reused. In the age of the remix, some rights reserved is more, rather than less important.

What about Social Contracts? [Now I am beginning to sound like Andrew Orlowski, which is kind of worrying…]

With the Google scheme the entire onus for managing and tracking infringement falls onto content creators. Michael Perry of Inkling books commented thusly on Tim’s blog:

 Publishers of such books should not have to go to Google and a thousand other websites that might pop up imitating Google and force every one of them not to carry the book. Remember, if Google gets away with “opt out,” then anyone else can have the same policy and most of them won’t attract the same visibility that Google gets. Notice too how Google is assuming they can do something that, if applied to anyone with a web site, would lead to disaster.

And that is the sticking point, as far as I can see. It surely has to be up to the author to decide whether to opt in or out. You want to talk about progressive taxation, Tim? 

Great – it seems to me Google is acting somewhat like Wal-Mart, paying minimum wage and expecting everyone else to pick up the heathcare tab. Technology is great but we must surely be careful not to to forget people and contracts between them. Especially not when the alternative is a new regressive tax on business for content creators and rights holders.

I don’t have a problem with Google’s Library idea, per se, just its execution. Not everything can be automated, even if everything can be digitised.

The reason Google is facing pushback its because of its actions, its culture of secrecy, and perhaps, arrogance. A few years ago Microsoft failed to make the case of a universal digital identity because of the same flaws.

Change, in the hiveminds of Google today, and Microsoft just a few years ago, is something done to other people. They don’t have a choice. Its not a contract. We had to destroy the village in order to save it.

But social change is always a result of the interplay between the top down and the grassroots, between the “we know best” and the “we like it as it is”, between people and communities and new technologies.

There must be limitations on our tech utopias. Constraints. A world without constraints is not a nice place to live. Constraints allow for design of better processes. A lack of constraints makes for constant aggression.

John Battelle says:

Let’s work this out, folks. This ain’t Napster. I know the book industry has issues with this, and they are significant, but man, they are completely shooting themselves in the foot if they don’t figure out how to leverage Google and search in general to sell down the long tail. Sheesh.

I don’t know about you, John, but in my experience working out how to make money in partnership usually involves a discussion somewhere along the line. My understanding is that Google has not exactly been forthcoming in this regard. Its surely worth making the point the book industry is already doing quite nicely in the Long Tail – remember that little company called Amazon?

For certain classes of work – perhaps those out of print, as per Tim O’Reilly’s suggestion, or just those whose copyright has lapsed, it makes sense that no opt in is required. But that’s a discussion to have, not a unilateral decision.

Finally however, what I really wanted to do was point the Google-Microsoft OCA-Liberty dynamic.

Just as Microsoft is condemned to make the same errors that IBM did, it seems that Google is condemned to make the same errors that Microsoft did.

My question to Google – do you want an Open Culture or not? If you do why don’t you start acting like it?

A culture of secrecy and unilateral action is not always a good basis for winning friends and influencing people, If you want to move into new businesses that’s surely what you have to do. Apple talked to the record companies before launching iTunes, in order to establish a business model. Of course there is still conflict there, over fees and so on, but there is also a new economy emerging.

I, for one, look forward to the arrival of Google’s Scoble. Someone that starts talking to the world. Can Google please hire someone like Lenn Pryor who understands that secrecy is over-rated and that dialogue is best.

Maybe Sun can teach Google a thing or two about being culturally open. That would be the ideal result of yesterday’s Sun-Google announcement.

One final final note- at the moment its pretty clear Liberty won. People are building businesses around Liberty-federation. Can you say the same for Passport?

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