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Books are the most traditional of all copyrightable works. Copyright as a legal institution was developed particularly for protecting authors and publishers of books. Over the years, copyrights have been granted to creators of all kinds of works, ranging from music over films to software. While most of these other types of copyrighted works are strongly affected by new forms of content production and distribution in the course of the so-called “digital revolution”, books seem to have been relatively immune to the very same technological changes – at least until Google started with the mass digitization of books and Amazon launched its increasingly popular e-book-reader “Kindle” (see “Google Books and the Kindle Controversy: Merging Conflict Arenas?“).

Especially Google Book Search (GBS) has inspired intense controversies between supporters, painting the highly optimistic picture of universal access to all books ever published for virtually everybody, and adversaries, fearing the rise of a knowledge monopolist, who exploits authors, publishers and readers alike. The best and most comprehensive comparison of both lines of argumentation I have encountered so far is a recent piece by Berkeley’s Pamela Samuelson titled “Google Book Search and the Future of Books in Cyberspace” (PDF).

After identifying overly restrictive copyright as the major impediment for any mass digitization project, Samuelson turns to the pros and cons of the GBS settlement in its current, amended version. As optimistic predictions she lists the following: Read the rest of this entry »

In preparing this post I struggled with the question how to call the process between two parties offering complementary services that obviously refer reciprocally in their actions to each other but do not directly and explicitly negotiate? This question came to me, when recently the German debate on an ancillary copyright (see “Dilbert on Ancillary Copyright“) for publishing houses arrived in the US. “Editor & Publisher”, proud of being “America’s Oldest Journal Covering the Newspaper Industry”, features an article asking “Change in Copyright Law: A Possible Solution to News Content Crisis?”  As a solution suggest by industry representatives, the article reports demands for introducing compulsory licensing fees for Web-based agregators or re-distributors of news content.

But aside this transatlantic discourse coalition addressing legislative bodies, we can see interesting dynamics of unilateral (non-)negotiation between two big players in this game, thereby changing the rules as they “play”: Google and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. The latter’s opener were plans of a partnership with Microsoft regarding the new search engine Bing. Business Week’s Douglas MacMillan describes the potential deal as follows:

“In an effort to keep News Corp.’s newspaper content out of Google’s search results, Murdoch’s media giant has held early-stage talks to forge a deal that would put content from The Wall Street Journal, and possibly other company-owned publications, exclusively in Microsoft’s Bing search engine. […] In exchange for the exclusive content, Microsoft would pay an undisclosed fee[.]”

Only about a week later Google announced its counterstrike on its corporate blog, explicitely referring to concerns of newspaper publishers: Read the rest of this entry »

Not so long ago I asked in this blog: “Is Google News Piracy?” when the European Publisher Council (EPC) as well as the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and many of their member organizations signed the “Hamburg Declaration on Intellectual Property Rights” (see list of signatories), which bemoans too little protection and compensation of online content.

Several months of lobbying from major media corporations such as the Axel Springer AG (publisher of the largest German boulevard paper “Bild“) or Burda and one federal election later, Germany seems to end up answering this question with “yes”. The new conservative German government plans to quickly introduce a new ancillary copyright bill, which shall protect publishers of being “expropriated” by new online news services, as Hubert Burda put it (German). According to Christoph Keese, chief lobbyist of Axel Springer, and Christoph Fiedler from VDZ, the umbrella organisation of German Magazine Publishers, this new legislation shall eventually lead to the formation of a new copyright collective for publishers and journalists (see the German video of a recent debate in Berlin).

As only little is known so far about the details in the upcoming bill, speculations regarding potential consequences of such an ancillary copyright spread. The Austrian IT-news portal futurezone, for example, paints the picture of upcoming “linking crimes” (“Link-Verbrechen”) and fears “worsenings for researchers, bloggers and journalists.” And while it seems pretty clear that publishing houses will profit most from the new ancillary copyright, the question “who pays the bill?” is still open for debate.

But the best summary of the current situation is again – for another example, see “Google Books and the Kindle Controversy” – provided by Scott Adam’s Dilbert, who needs only three small boxes to tell more than my entire description above did:


Very interesting in this regard is a plenary session at the “Monaco Media Forum” featuring Arianna Huffington, founder of the news website Huffington Post, and Mathias Döpfner, CEO of the German Axel Springer AG:

Especially interesting is the part after about 17 minutes when Döpfner starts talking about “web communism”:

“I think this theory that only a free access to information is, I have to admit, one of the most absurd theories that I have heard. It is a very late ideological outcome of web communists.”

At this point Arianna Huffington jumps in with the question:

“Is Chris Anderson in the room?”

His book is called “Free. The Economics of Abundance and Why Zero Pricing Is Changing the Face of Business”. It is available for free online, as a PDF as well as an audio book (285MB).


Microsoft’s 1991 “Press Computer Dictionary” defined “Vaporware” as follows (taken from Bayus et al.):

“vaporware n.  (1) a product that the vendor keeps promising is about to arrive ‘really soon now’, but it goes so long past its shipment date that no one believes it will ever really ship […] (2) slang for announced software that may never materialize […]; (3) a term used sarcastically for promised software that misses the announced release date, usually by a considerable length of time”

Into management language “vaporware” could probably best be translated as “strategic product pre-announcement”. Especially in technological network markets, corporations with strong market power pre-announce upcoming products and promise a wide range of features so that customers refrain from adopting or even switching to an already existing alternative solution. The rationale behind those strategies is relatively simple and it transcends network markets, reaching into the realm of standardization with network effects in general: “the standard that is expected to become the standard will become the standard”, as Shapiro and Varian put it in their seminal book “Information Rules” (1999, p. 13).

For decades, Microsoft was the uncrowned king of vaporware. (Actually, already in 1985 Bill Gates received the “Golden Vaporware Award” by Infoworld’s editor Stewart Alsop.) The long pre-announced introduction of Windows 95 is legendary and has just recently been topped by Microsoft starting to announce new features of Windows 7 immediately after the release of its unloved Windows Vista.

Seen in this light, the recent reactions of Microsoft officials to Google’s pre-announcement of “Chrome OS” (see “Microsoft vs. Google: New Fronts in a Paradigmatic Battle“) do not lack unintentional humor. Microsoft’s Senior Vice President, Bill Veghte, bemoaned in an interview that “so far Google’s Chrome OS is nothing more than a blog post.” Even more revealing is yesterday’s remark of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, as reported by CNET:

“Gates said it was hard to really say much about Chrome OS, since Google has said so little about how it will actually work. ‘The more vague they are, the more interesting it is,’ he said.”

Both critiques resemble accusations Microsoft regularly had to deal with in the past. But maybe Microsoft is right and Google will be its successor to the throne of vaporware. We will see.


When the chief of Microsoft Germany, Achim Berg, predicted in an interview in the “Berliner Zeitung” that “the free-of-cost-culture on the Internet draws to a close” last Saturday, this happened not only weeks after Microsoft had started its own, free-of-charge search engine “bing” but also only days before Google’s announcement of “Chrome OS”: A new open source operating system on top of a Linux kernel and delivered, of course, for free. On the Official Google Blog Chrome OS was announced as follows:

“[T]he operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no web. So today, we’re announcing a new project […] — the Google Chrome Operating System. It’s our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be. Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks. Later this year we will open-source its code, and netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010. Because we’re already talking to partners about the project, and we’ll soon be working with the open source community, we wanted to share our vision now so everyone understands what we are trying to achieve.”

Is this re-opening the operating system wars of the 1980s? Is this the beginning of serious open source competition for Microsoft’s proprietary business model? In other words, are we witnessing a paradigmatic battle of open versus proprietary innovation regimes with Google and Microsoft as its most prominent antipodes? I am not so sure. But maybe the Pirate Party’s sole member in the European Parliament, Christian Engström, was right in his interesting op-ed in the Financial Times yesterday:

“The world is at a crossroads. The internet and new information technologies are so powerful that no matter what we do, society will change. But the direction has not been decided.”


Recent copyright conflicts around Google Book Search (see a NYT article) and Google’s video platform YouTube (see another NYT article) independently of one another received a lot of media attention but have not been discussed jointly. This is surprising, not only because in both conflicts Google is under attack but also because both cases have several patterns in common:

First, Google Book Search and YouTube are both tools for making copyrighted material more easily accessible for users. Thereby, Google represents a new type of intermediary between creators and consumers, as they have repeatedly emerged alongside technological change. And as the example of radio broadcasting in the early 20th century demonstrates (see pp. 73ff. in Lessig 2001, PDF), the role and regulation of such new intermediaries is a highly contingent negotiation process. Read the rest of this entry »

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
June 2023

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