by C.G. Lynch

Suing Google – Not a Winning Business Plan

Jul 05, 20073 mins
Enterprise Applications

Businesses and governments have begun to respond to Google and its astonishing growth as they did to Microsoft in the late 1990s – if you can’t beat ‘em, sue ‘em.

    Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that lawsuits are starting up all over the place in Europe, where laws on things like libel and competition – two issues Google is being sued for – require a lower standard for plaintiffs to meet in reaching their desired verdict.

    Just a quick sampling of what’s out there right now:

    In Belgium this week, the search giant is appealing a copyright lawsuit filed and won by a group of publishers in February claiming that Google’s publishing of excerpts violated Belgian copyright law.

    In Germany, a businessman by the name of Daniel Giersch was able to prove that he owned the rights to the term “Gmail” in Germany, and a court agreed, banning Google from the Gmail name in that country.

    In one chilling case in England (and this is something I’d hope would never fly in the States because of the First Amendment), Google was sued for defamation by a man who said Google listed (in its search results) erroneous postings from websites that hurt his reputation as a businessman with inaccurate information.

    And yesterday Europe’s major consumer group expressed worry that Google’s takeover of online ad tracker DoubleClick would damage European Union privacy rights and limit consumers’ choice of Web content.

    These legal actions are all on the heels of Old Media’s (or, in this case, Viacom’s) attempts in the United States to sue Google over its listing of copyrighted content on YouTube  (a legitimate concern, but still a rather pathetic way for that company to come up with new winning business models).

    But in this very apt and even-keeled look at criticisms aimed at Google, we see that the company is far from being all bad and does usually live up to its “Do no evil” motto.  When it comes to coughing up user search queries to the constantly out-of-control Justice Department, other companies in the search market like Yahoo!, AOL and Microsoft put up a weak fight while Google strongly balked at such a gross violation. (Though, wisely, they made it a

trade-secret matter rather than a more politically charged privacy issue)

    Google hasn’t been all good, either, and there are certainly some warranted reasons for criticism, like when it willingly altered search results that the Chinese government found undesirable.

    But based on Microsoft’s fairly effective handling of lawsuits, there’s no reason to think Google won’t be able to brush the majority of these aside and keep moving forward.

    For those suing them (and who win), it might make them feel good for a short while, but it won’t be the answer to prevent the giant from having unchecked power in this new economy – they key will be to re-imagine their businesses online with Google’s presence surely there.

How they do it is up to them.