Lawyers: Mixed Opinions about Law and Online Giants

May 26, 2008

I’m no attorney (thank goodness). I don’t understand lawyers, lawmakers, or the pundits who explain what legal eagles do, don’t do, and won’t do.

Two news items caught my attention. Despite my feeling lousy, I decided to urge you to read both. The CNet story explains that Viacom is suing Google for one billion dollars. Google argues that it complies with applicable copyright laws. The old media company and the new media company are going to meet in court. (Someone told me that 95 percent of litigation is resolved before going to trial.) You can read this clear write up here.

The other story is from ZDNet Australia about a judge in that country who opines that “Google, Yahoo Make Lawmakers Impotent”. You can read it here.

The Australian judge offers the opinion that technology is changing too fast for the courts. Technology allows some companies to “beat the legal system”.

Lawyers, based on my limited experience, are not good technologists. My sample is small, but the attorneys whom I have known also have trouble with math. Suggest that a Riemann zeta function is a use procedure, and I experienced a nervous chuckle. The sidekick of blind justice were not sure if I was kidding, or I were serious.

In my first Google study “The Google Legacy” and in my second “Google Version 2.0” I argued that lawyers could kill Google. Both are available from Infonortics Ltd. in Tetbury, Glou.

I’m not sure if “kill” is the correct word. A legal process can suck money, management attention, and public perception at prodigious rates. A sufficiently bad run of luck in the courts could slap a weight jacket on the GOOG.

On the other hand, lawyers, if the Australian judge’s observation is somewhat accurate, might be their own bear trap. A lawyer trying to explain how algorithms and teenagers undermine a traditional media giant could confuse matters in an interesting way.

My view is that technology is not just outpacing the legal system. Technology is in the process of redefining some of the principles that are codified in many countries’ laws. The problem is analogous to the wrenching of the Roman legal system before Julius Caesar and the wild and crazy mess that followed his brief term in office. Roman law never adapted. One might point out that Italy’s present legal system is still pretty wacky. Nevertheless, the Italian technologists in Modena, Bologna, and Rome seem to be innovating without much friction from Italian courts.

Yahoo could be taken out by the courts. The company is in “transition”. Google, on the other hand, may have the resources to deal with lawyers who want to put technology in its place, snap a shock collar on Google, and keep the clueless traditional giants paying those fat, fat fees. In law, attorneys’ math is good enough to get those bills in the mail.

Stephen Arnold, May 27, 2008


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