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Commentary

Is There Life After Search Engines?

We should all be thinking the unthinkable about search engines: they may be put out of business by legal challenges. Search engines are under attack from several directions, and of course, it's all about the money.
We should all be thinking the unthinkable about search engines: they may be put out of business by legal challenges. Search engines are under attack from several directions, and of course, it's all about the money.

Companies that own "intellectual property" (something that's always sounded to me like a contradiction in terms) are gunning for search engine's revenues, claiming that Google and Yahoo and the like are profiting unfairly from the use of their copyrighted content. Everybody from newspaper publishers in Europe to porn mags and movie studios in the United States are trying to . . . to what, to get delisted? So what is that likely to do for their site traffic, do you think?The truth is the World Wide Web as we know it depends on search engines. The intellectual-property yahoos, who have been focused on the "property" rather than the "intellectual" don't seem to have thought through what would happen if they manage to drag down Yahoo. But we should consider the possibility.

What we need is a Supreme Court ruling that reconfirms the centrality of fair use to copyright law and lays out a safe harbor for search engines. Nothing less is going to save the Web. The attacks on search engines are the early warning signs of the degradation of the Internet into another kind of cable channel, all commercial, all advertorials all the time.

The Web has been a kind of open-source intellectual playground, with the search engines helping drive the discovery of its riches. We'll all miss that when they're gone.