Why We Don’t Hold Google Liable for Results

Cord Blomquist has an interesting post at TLF about the Google-Viacom lawsuit. He points out that forcing YouTube to take down infringing material will just push the material to other sites. Cord notes that when he was unable to find infringing material on YouTube, he was easily able to find it using a simple Google search.

This got me thinking: What if Google were held liable for the infringement it finds? What is the line between doing a YouTube search and a Google search? Obviously, one line is fairly clear: YouTube actually hosts videos on its servers, while Google just links to them as part of search results.

But that is not the line that is at issue in the Viacom case. There, the issue is whether YouTube employees knew about infringing uses. What if we applied this same standard to Google? Should Google have to take down links to illegal pages? (Remember the firestorm behind Google bombs?) This would stifle free expression online and the purpose of search, which is to provide links to any information desired. Links do not do harm. Enabling access to harmful or infringing material is not the same as actually providing it. In the era of cloud computing and – especially – cloud storage, the distinction between enabling access and providing may become blurred. Let’s hope we remember to air on the side of liberty.