Perhaps the greatest tool for increasing access to books that man has ever invented, Google Books has made untold amounts of literature available to the masses. Copyrights on many of the scanned books have already expired, so much of the Google Books selection is in the public domain. But Google also scanned in-copyright, in-print works and in-copyright, out-of-print works. After publishers sued Google for putting in-copyright books on the web, Google created a system to expand publishers’ revenue by allowing them to offer limited previews alongside an option to purchase the entire book. This incredibly innovative revenue model will finally make much of the world’s in-print information available to anyone – the homeless, the bedridden, some guy in Siberia with a wireless card.
But even though their fidgety hands are already hard at work increasing the cost of energy and healthcare and decreasing car safety and flailing around at North Korea, Democrats decided that they better kill innovation before it gets out of control.
The Justice Department is using so-called “antitrust” powers – originally meant to destroy efficient monopolies like Standard Oil in favor of inefficiency – to go after that settlement and possibly force a renegotiation. Clearly, there’s no good reason to do so. Just look at the settlement terms; publishers and Google alike are praising the business opportunities. But Justice has issued Civil Investigative Demands to book publishers so that the juicy details of Google’s innovative plan can sift through the fingers of its regulators.
And the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is afraid that smart people may be working together. (Gasp!) So they are investigating Google board members who hold seats at other tech companies.
Even worse, the FTC is afraid that automatically-collected information never viewed by humans may be used to target ads based on consumers’ interests, increasing the efficiency of advertising and helping vendors deliver the products consumers want. That would be terrible, wouldn’t it?
Even though the Obama administration has ramped up the idiocy of antitrust regulation, the Bush administration stands guilty of blocking innovation, too. Yahoo’s struggling search platform launched a competitor to Google AdSense four years ago. The name: Yahoo Publisher. It’s still in beta today. That, along with a “whole host” (as Obama might say) of other problems led Google and Yahoo to seek a search partnership to share ideas and create better search technology for the people. The Bush administration blocked the deal on antitrust grounds.
What the blockheads in the federal government did not realize is that there are thousands of search engines, and dozens of major competitors to Google and Yahoo. Google’s enormous market share would easily be diluted by, say, Microsoft Bing or any of the other services out there if the Google-Yahoo partnership failed to increase efficiency for consumers.
Sometimes, I wonder if any of these antitrust regulators have ever used a computer to log onto the Internet and see the interconnected wonder that private enterprise has developed. Probably not. (Yes, the military – one of the few functional federal departments – got things going with ArpaNET, but then came semi-private and private management of DNS and then Verisign and then the Internet revolution, which was all private.)
I beg you to fire these blockheads’ enablers in 2010. And I demand that you give their boss the pink slip in 2012.