Conflict of Interest: Google and copyright law
The following comment was posted online on 7/19/2014 in response to an article in Science News by Bruce Bower entitled: Online Causes May Attract More Clicks Than Comments
Fascinating article. I have one bone to pick, however. The article concludes by holding up the online protest movement against copyright legislation as a sort of pure, unadulterated victory for online activism. Such a representation, however, should come with a major caveat: namely, the fact that Google -- the company that, more than any other, determines the very "findability" of online content -- was founded on a liberal interpretation of the copyright laws and thus has a vested interest in facilitating (if not actively promoting) such an interpretation online. With such a bias existing in the very operators of the search engine par excellence, Google opponents can never be sure that Google search algorithms, ad placement choices (etc.) are giving a fair shake to both sides of the argument when it comes to online visibility. In short, Google has a conflict of interest in that it both facilitates the online discussion and takes a definite side in it.
In fact, the search giant is expressing its own viewpoint on this subject every time it melodramatically replaces a DCMA-challenged link with a link to the clearly partisan "Chilling Effects" project, instead of, say, simply linking the searcher to a forum wherein the online copyright law controversy may be discussed by stakeholders on every side of the issue, even by those who disagree that a "chilling effect" is necessarily involved in enforcing reasonable copyright law. Of course the effect of stricter copyright enforcement may indeed be chilling to a company that has made billions of dollars based on the informal status quo, but that fact is irrelevant to a consideration of the merits of stricter enforcement. The goal of copyright law, after all, is to protect creators, not to help Google continue with business as usual.