Michael Macrone
Articles & Essays

Hot Seat: Larry Page

Google isn’t just popular, it’s beloved. But its halo has been tarnished by the company’s acceptance of the “safe harbor” offered by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The law protects search engines from liability when they link to pages that infringe copyrights. The catch: To gain protection, they must remove offending links on request—which Google gladly does, pointing instead to the request itself. Has the Web’s best index compromised its mission? Google cofounder Larry Page explains. – Michael Macrone

Google’s Compromising Position

WIRED: Why has Google chosen to seek safe harbor under the DMCA?
PAGE: There are a lot of nice things about the DMCA. It protects us from liability. But we’ve taken a progressive approach by directing readers to the complaint when a link is taken down. So people who have issues with our removing a link, or who think it was removed for the wrong reasons, can easily find out exactly what we’ve done and why.

Once a link has been removed, hasn’t the damage to your index already been done?
Copyright exists to protect people’s creations and their right to profit from them. If we don’t respect it, we’re going to discourage creation of content, which is what we live on.

Your terms of service say you don’t screen sites before linking to them and you don’t manipulate search results, which are generated by software without human intervention. Doesn’t removing links on request show that you can and do screen results?
DMCA requests don’t cause us to raise a page’s rank, which is what we mean by manipulation. Out of the billions of pages listed in our index, only a few may be removed in a week. When we receive a request, it’s almost always because someone is violating the law. In most cases, the page itself is going to come down, since the people who made the request will go after the ISP that hosts the page as well. And as soon as a page comes down, it’s removed from our index. So what would happen anyway is just happening a little faster.

It sounds as though you assume that all allegations of infringement are valid.
No, not at all. But when we’re notified of something, we have an obligation to do the right thing. We need to be responsive to people’s rights.

Could the DMCA be abused by powerful interests hoping to silence critics or competitors?
That has happened, but not much. What concerns us more is that countries are taking an increasingly active role in deciding which Internet traffic can cross their borders. We have offices in places that may decide, willy-nilly, that we’re liable for linking to the wrong sites.

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First published in Wired magazine (November, 2002)

Wired, Nov. 2002 cover   Hot Seat: Larry Page article

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