A View from Christopher Mims
The Delicious Irony of Microsoft Aggregating Google's Search Results
There’s nothing illegal about Microsoft copying Google’s search results. After all, the Web is built on aggregation.
Microsoft’s Bing search engine is apparently relying on data gathered from users of its Internet Explorer browser to copy some of the search results offered by Google and then offer them up on Bing. Google would officially like the practice to stop, and the fight between the two usually buttoned-down companies has already turned nasty on Twitter.
It’s not clear that Microsoft is doing anything illegal, however, which leads to possibly the most monumentally irony ever to fall out of the sky and land in the midst of an ongoing communications and intellectual property revolution:
The company that built its entire business model on the principles of U.S. copyright law that 1) facts cannot be copyrighted and 2) it’s perfectly alright to display snippets of others’ work – i.e. to engage in aggregation – has just been aggregated by a competitor.
Let the games begin.
Just as its impossible to copyright a list of information, even a gigantic one such as the contents of a phonebook, it’s probably not possible for Google to stop Bing or, and this is the important part, any other potential upstart, from aggregating its search results. It’s just a meta-aggregation, after all, like when Rex Sorgatz writes his end of the year roundup of all the end of the year roundups.
If the internet is a food chain comprised of information, Google has long been its apex predator – the megalodon in a sea of small fry foolish enough to try to eke out a living by actually creating content rather than just pointing people to it. Now, for the first time ever, Google not only has competition, but competition savvy enough to deploy the same perfectly legal tactics upon which Google’s vast fortunes rest.
Whatever happens next, Bing’s move points out a business opportunity others could potentially exploit: if Google’s results are the kind of information that “wants to be free,” how can others make a buck by delivering it to users on their own sites?