A few days ago, and with no notice at all, Google deleted a handful of blogs. <POOF!> Gone. Just like that.
Most of the attention to this has focused on what those blogs did; they were repositories for music, and while there were reviews attached (for example) to legitimize the blogs’ purpose, they were in fact making copyrighted materials available without the permission of the copyright holders.
And that, as you know, is generally not legal.
There’s a very small piece of me that finds the debate and protest against Google’s action fascinating. And it’s a huge protest; search Twitter for #Musicblogocide2K10 to see (Or Google itself once Twitter’s history expires). I’ve covered various aspects of music and movie piracy a few times (see here and here) and how studios are taking more successful steps to get us to pay for Movies and Television on the Internet.
But ultimately Google did what they had to do; faced with a take-down notice from the RIAA and not wanting to fight a legal battle that they’d eventually lose and wouldn’t benefit from either way, they capitulated.
The issue is what protection the blog writers have from Google acting this way. The thin complaint that’s being offered is that Google deleted those blogs without notice or giving the people who wrote them a chance to respond to the RIAA take-down requests.
And now the Internet gets interesting: Who Owns Your Web Site?
Not being an attorney, I don’t have an opinion that means enough to offer. I’ve been in the media business and other businesses for quite a while and understand a lot about things like copyrights and trademarks, and I’m a firm believer that common sense, applied carefully, will often obviate the need for an attorney. But as President Bill Clinton proved when he uttered that famous phrase “it depends on what you think ‘is‘ is”, a word like “ownership” is not as simple as it seems.
There’s no question that the things the bloggers write belong to them. And while it’s more difficult to answer clearly, a question about the “look and feel” of their web sites would also be answered with “that’s theirs”. Similarly, the “work product” you create belongs to you.
But the music being hosted belonged to someone else. Someone with deep pockets and a demonstrated propensity to sue anyone who uses their product without permission. And Google’s position? THEY WERE GIVING AWAY THE SPACE THOSE BLOGS WERE HOSTED ON.
Simple concept, friends: when you do business with someone, make sure you are actually doing business with them. Free almost always means “they have no obligation to do anything for you, and you have no real recourse”.
Are you storing documents on your free Google Docs account? You can believe that Google will protect the things you keep on their servers, but other than Google having said they plan to keep doing so you have no leverage if they stop providing the service or start charging for it. And you’re sure not gonna sue Google if they change their minds.
For goodness sake—more important, for your sake and to gain some protection against a very ugly business change—don’t host your web site for free. There are many inexpensive places we can place your Internet presence, and I mean truly inexpensive.
It’s your business, and if you want your business web site to stay yours, we know some very simple ways to insure that.