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Q: Google's copyright infringement? ( Answered 3 out of 5 stars,   4 Comments )
Subject: Google's copyright infringement?
Category: Business and Money > eCommerce
Asked by: mikesanfran-ga
List Price: $4.00
Posted: 10 May 2002 13:04 PDT
Expires: 17 May 2002 13:04 PDT
Question ID: 15068
How does google limit its legal liability if researchers post
copyrighted information in their answers?  Even though the end-user is
posting it, and even though they've likely agreed to some
click-through disclaimer/indemnity, etc...Google is still hosting the
infringing copyright.  Even if they only host it briefly, and take it
down promptly after someone complained, they've still committed the

I'd also like an intellectual property attorney's view on what a
copyright owners damages and claim strength would be if their material
was poached?

The following answer was rejected by the asker (they received a refund for the question).
Subject: Re: Google's copyright infringement?
Answered By: google_answers-ga on 10 May 2002 15:07 PDT
Rated:1 out of 5 stars
Thank you for your question about Google Answers. 
All publicly available information about Google Answers is available
through our web site at:
&lt;a href=&quot;<a href=""></a>&quot;&gt;<a href=""></a>&lt;/a&gt; 
For answers to your questions about copyright and intellectual
property law, we recommend you consult professional legal counsel.
Thank you for your interest in Google Answers.  
Reason this answer was rejected by mikesanfran-ga:
Instead of being answered by a researcher, it was dodged by a google
employee.  Its not like I was going to sue google or anything, I just
was curious how they handled the issue.
mikesanfran-ga rated this answer:1 out of 5 stars
That was an evasive answer that seems to have been posted by a google
employee hoping to prevent any discussion of legitimate copyright
issues which are constantly being impacted by digital media.

I've read the terms, and I've read the FAQs.  Researchers, who've gone
through the application process, should have had an easy time letting
me know if they hvae to indemnify google, or if their answers are
screened, or if they are made aware of fair use restrictions, etc.

I'll be requesting a refund promptly.

Subject: Re: Google's copyright infringement?
Answered By: musashidam-ga on 10 May 2002 19:50 PDT
Rated:3 out of 5 stars
Thank you for your inquiry. 

This is certainly a good question. First off, the question of
'quotability' of online material falls under a provision of Copyright
law known as 'Fair Use'. The United States Copyright Office website
describes the Fair Use provision as follows:

"One of the rights accorded to the owner of copyright is the right to
reproduce or to authorize others to reproduce the work in copies or
phonorecords. This right is subject to certain limitations found in
sections 107 through 118 of the copyright act (title 17, U.S. Code).
One of the more important limitations is the doctrine of “fair use.”
Although fair use was not mentioned in the previous copyright law, the
doctrine has developed through a substantial number of court decisions
over the years. This doctrine has been codified in section 107 of the
copyright law. "

Unfortunately, the limits of 'fair use' aren't strictly codified, and
are treated on a case by case basis by US courts. Therefore, any use
of someone else's work can be construed as infringement should the
infringed upon party care to make a case of it. And I quote "There is
no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken
without permission."

However, when a copyright infringement lawsuit is brought before the
courts, the court must make a decision on the case based on four
criteria. These critera are the basis of 'fair use' doctrine, and are
about as solid a ruling as you're going to get. The four critera are:

"1.) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use
is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

2.) the nature of the copyrighted work;

3.) amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the
copyrighted work as a whole; and

4.) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of
the copyrighted work."

The court then decides on a case by case basis, using the above
critera, whether or not the lawsuit holds any merit.

Please note that copyright law only copyrights an author's style of
expression, not any factual information contained within his works.

You are right in assuming that Google places the onus of Copyright law
on the researchers. Researchers are held accountable for everything
they post, and therefore Google is lawfully exempt from litigation
unless they knowingly allow copyrighted works to remain posted after
they have been made aware that an infringement is taking place. In the
case of 'Marobie-FL, Inc. d/b/a Galactic Software v. National
Association of Fire Equipment Distributors and Northwest Nexus, Inc.,
983 F. Supp. 1167 (N.D. Ill., Nov. 13, 1997)'  just such a claim was
ruled on and it was determined that "the web host was not liable for
direct infringement, because it only provided the facilities for the
customer to commit copyright infringement, much like the provider of a
public copying machine would." The same concept would likely apply to
Google, as long as Google acted in the infringee's best interests once
the infringement was brought to light.

Marobie-FL, Inc. v. NAFED

As to the 'claim strength' of a copyright lawsuit, this again would be
determined by the criteria above. The legal damages awareded vary. In
terms of criminal prosecution, the penalties are spelled out as such:

"Where the infringing activity is for commercial advantage or private
financial gain, sound recording copyright infringements can be
punishable by up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines. 
Repeat offenders can be imprisoned for up to 10 years."

The SIIA (Software & Information Industry Association) lists the
maximum civil penalties as such:

"In the United States, the infringer is liable for damages suffered by
the copyright owner plus any profits of the infringer that are
attributable to the copying or statutory damages of up to $150,000 for
each work infringed."

SIAA Anti-Piracy FAQ:

I hope this answers your question!
(And I hope I don't get into any hot water for quoting so much in this

- musashidam - ga

Suggested Links:

Soundbyting - The Penalty Box:

U.S. Copyright Office - Fair Use:

Search Terms:

copyright law quoting sources

copyright civil penalties

web hosting copyright infringement
mikesanfran-ga rated this answer:3 out of 5 stars
Thanks for your thoughts.  I whole-heartedly disagree that "Google is
lawfully exempt from litigation unless they knowingly allow
copyrighted works to remain posted after they have been made aware
that an infringement is taking place."  If there's anything that can
be said about the state of litigation in this country, it is that no
person, company, organization, or anything else you can think of, is
exempt from litigation.  And once you're in litigation, anything goes.
 The law is not absolute, and any judge can, as the title implies,
make a judgement call.

Anyway, thanks for your comments, though you didn't really answer the
first question, that is: HOW DOES GOOGLE LIMIT ITS LIABILITY.  i.e.,
what steps does it put in place.  You say it puts the onus on the

Subject: Re: Google's copyright infringement?
From: atr-ga on 10 May 2002 16:44 PDT
I was wondering, too, if Google had to make a licence agreement
to use's patented Reverse Auction "Technology"?
It works the same way... the "customer" offers up a bid... a number
of "suppliers" compete to accept it.
Subject: Re: Google's copyright infringement?
From: mvguy-ga on 11 May 2002 06:00 PDT
I disagree strongly that the ruling in the Marobie-FL would apply to
Google.  Maybe it would, and maybe it wouldn't.  The facts are
substantially different, and certainly any lawyer representing an
aggrieved copyright holder would say the cases aren't alike at all. 
In the Marobie-FL case, the defendant was merely a Web host.  But
Google (or other parties similarly situated) isn't merely providing
Web space; it's actively soliciting content.  I can assume that Google
has done its legal homework and is protecting itself (I have no inside
info on the company and can't speak for it), but that doesn't mean
that the legal answers are as clear as the researcher suggests.

I don't think it's clear at all what a court would rule; the facts of
the specific case would make a difference. So I believe that the
answer given is legally incomplete and could be misleading as well.
Subject: Re: Google's copyright infringement?
From: ephraim-ga on 12 May 2002 21:30 PDT
Two disclaimers:

1) I am not a lawyer and have no legal training.
2) I am a researcher for Google answers, *BUT* what follows is my own
personal opinion and has not been approved or disapproved by the
Google Answers staff. In other words, I'm speaking for myself alone.


I think you're right that the question was originally answered by an
emloyee of Google Answers. If you take a look at the answers posted by
google_answers-ga, it should be pretty obvious that all questions
answered by this ID discuss the operation of Google itself. In fact,
since questions about Google seem to be permanently "locked" until
answered hours or days later, I don't doubt that some employee is
assigned the task of monitoring the questions coming in 24/7 and
locking those which refer to Google itself.

With that in mind, I don't think that anybody -- whether a Researcher
or a Google employee -- is capable of answering your first paragraph
in a forum like this. For the most part, Researchers basically have
access to the same public information that you do, and therefore can't
give you much more detail than what google_answers-ga posted. Google
won't answer the question because they'd be crazy to do so.

Reread that last sentence.

Google's lawyers (if they're worth anything) would *NEVER* allow a
detailed answer to be posted by one of their employees. Why, you might
ask? Remember the "Miranda Rights" usually read to criminalsthat you
usually hear on cop shows? You know, the one that starts with, "You
have the right to remain silent"? One of the phrases in Miranda is
"anything you say *can* and *will* be used against you."

Now, imagine if Google actually gave you a straightforwrd answer to
your question about how they would react to a copyright infringement
suit. Imagine if the posted answer to your question could be brought
into court as evidence. Suddenly, their own words could be used
against them.

A lawyer wrote and approved the Terms and Conditions document that
Google Answers uses. Assuming that the lawyer wasn't an idiot, that
document should be the *only* public information that Google will want
out there about their policies. If they begin commenting on the width
and breadth of their policies elsewhere, they open themselves up to a
wider interpretation of their policies. (In addition, they would have
to get a $400.00/hour lawyer to actually answer the question for which
you paid only $4.00 for. I doubt that any other Google employees are
permitted to make legal pronouncements or interpretations on behalf of
the company.)

The summary of all this? If you actually have questions about the
legality of what Google does, spend some money on a real lawyer.

Let me restate my first two disclaimers: All of the above is my
personal opinion alone and I have *zero* legal training.

Subject: Re: Google's copyright infringement?
From: mikesanfran-ga on 12 May 2002 23:18 PDT
MikeSanFran (original questioner)here.

I'm not seeking legal advice, but I appreciate the various comments. 
Rather, I'm in a position where digital rights are of interest to me,
so I was curious as to what protections google uses, to limit their
liability if a researcher simply posted verbatim the text of a 3rd
party who wouldn't appreciate it.

I've read the public info available to researchers prior to begining
the application process.  It includes a warning that wholesale cutting
& pasting could violate copyright laws.  That's a positive thing.  I
also assume that whatever T&C or click through agreement researchers
are subject to (different than the publicly available user info)
contain what's called an indemnity, meaning the researcher agrees to
defend google for any action brought against it as a result of the
researcher's action.  That's probably tight language, but if the
researcher does not have deep pockets, might not amount to much.  And,
the case cited above, I agree, is not quite applicable.  Hosting
service, and hosting this disucssion forum, indeed, soliciting content
and taking a payment for such posting, are very different things.

I was curious to know what additional steps Google may have in place
to limit this, like a centralized routing process where answers are
given a once over for appropriateness, copyright issues, etc.  Seems
fairly simple to me, but requires a human intervention step.  That may
be fine while this is in beta, but if it scales the way the very
successful search engine did, that may no longer be cost effective.

Anyway...note I only paid $4 for this.  Really just looking for
discussion on a topic that's interesting to me, and this was my first
time posting, so I wanted to see how it went.  Don't blame
google-answers for answering with their own representative, ....I'd
have done the same thing.  If anything, its indication that they've
thought this process out and have their act fairly together.

Take care.

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