Avast ye, Google

Pirate Bay trial ends in a guilty verdict, after the prosecution dropped half the original charges and rephrased the remainder to fit in with an understanding of how the site actually worked. It’s a qualified victory for the music industry, and the comment from the International Federation Of The Phonographic Industry (“It would have been very difficult to put on a brave face if we had lost, but this verdict sends a strong educational and deterrent message”) is wringing with relief. Guardian blogger Jack Schofield wonders if Google will be next, and is quite keen that it is: “Still, it would be interesting to see Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt jailed as well.”

There’s quite a high-powered crowd of media people who seem to share Schofield’s interest:

Rupert Murdoch accused Google in a speech of “stealing copyrights.” Wall Street Journal Managing Editor Robert Thomson called Google and other aggregators “parasites or tapeworms,” charging Google and other unnamed aggregators with the crime of “encouraging promiscuity” (managing to combine fear of Google and fear of sex, in what could be a model platform for the Republican Party in 2010).

The Big Money, Death a la carte

For people who publish the news, Murdoch and Thomson don’t seem to read an awful lot of it: the track record of efforts to prosecute the sharing of copyrighted information is supremely lousy. Taking down file-sharing individuals and facilitating websites hasn’t stopped other individuals and new websites from using the same technology (and more ferociously), and since text is even easier to copy and transmit than music and movies, it’s even less likely that squeezing a search engine will have any permanent effect.

And what about that “educational message” the IFPI was so pleased with? The hope of copyright holders is to teach their potential audience that everything they read, see or hear has to be paid for: it’s an incredibly mean message and one that’s totally opposed to the nature of culture and information. Like almost everyone, I’ve exchanged CDs and mixtapes, loaned books and DVDs, shared newspapers – because when something is exciting or important, you want to share it. There’s an obvious quantitative difference in digital reproduction, but qualitatively, it feels like sharing and not stealing. By trying to stick a price on everything, copyright holders risk sucking the value out of their own product.

Newspapers wonder: why aren’t we more like the beloved and successful recording industry?

Why the sneaking emergence of pissing and moaning about Google in the newspapers? Because the Assosiated Press is trying to establish search engines as the enemy in the latest attempt at saving a newspaper business model that only ever worked because of the economics of the printing press, that’s why:

Last Monday The Associated Press announced at its annual meeting that it would begin tracking how its content and that of its member newspapers was used and seek a share of the revenues generated by it. If an accommodation was not reached, The A.P. and its members would pursue legal remedies, the association said.

Beyond the saber rattling (or empty threat, if you remember how poorly hunting down users went for the record industry), The A.P. said it would build its own search-friendly landing page, a place where links to licensed content from member newspapers (including The New York Times) would be aggregated.

There are sites big and small that scrape content and serve it up with their own ads, often supplied by Google, but the clearest target of The A.P.’s announcement was Google News, which was not mentioned in the announcement, but which features an enormous amount of content from The A.P. and its member newspapers.

David Carr, “The Media Equation: Papers Try to Get Out of a Box”, WSJ

Of course, the recording industry is still trying extremely hard to penalise its customers into coming back (and the RIAA seems to be having a nice run of political success at the moment, even if everything else in the world is screaming that they’re doing this wrong).

But however much print tries to emulate the “sue your punter and carry on as before” model, political muscle isn’t enough to compensate for a transformed knowledge economy. Traditional print media outlets are preoccipied with wishfully thinking that they can carry on making money in the same old way while everything around them is changing – and as a result, according to Clay Shirky, “the conversation has degenerated into the enthusiastic grasping at straws, pursued by skeptical responses.”

So what’s going to happen? Thrillingly, nobody knows. Shirky again:

Print media does much of society’s heavy journalistic lifting, from flooding the zone — covering every angle of a huge story — to the daily grind of attending the City Council meeting, just in case. This coverage creates benefits even for people who aren’t newspaper readers, because the work of print journalists is used by everyone from politicians to district attorneys to talk radio hosts to bloggers. The newspaper people often note that newspapers benefit society as a whole. This is true, but irrelevant to the problem at hand; “You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone!” has never been much of a business model. So who covers all that news if some significant fraction of the currently employed newspaper people lose their jobs?

I don’t know. Nobody knows. We’re collectively living through 1500, when it’s easier to see what’s broken than what will replace it. The internet turns 40 this fall. Access by the general public is less than half that age. Web use, as a normal part of life for a majority of the developed world, is less than half that age. We just got here. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen.