Responsibility and search engines

August 12, 2007

  I read an intriguing defense of not regulating search engines, and by extension the internet today.  I disagree with it in part, because search engines are getting a free ride to riches, and ignoring their responsibilities in the process.  I’m not an expert, but it seems like a logical extension of current law to require search engine owners to ensure that they are not promoting stolen or plagiarized intellectual property.  I can hear the cries of foul already.  Can you imagine how much slower information would be placed on a search engine if you required them to ensure its authenticity and ownership?

   Why shouldn’t that be a requirement though?  We require newspapers, televisions, private foundations, et al to ensure that anything they use of an intellectual nature be vetted, and credit be given to the original authors of that material.  Further, there are a host of laws on the books that punish those who steal intellectual property or plagairize the work of others. 

   It occurs to me that the defense must be, well, we are only listing it.  Well, that makes you a conspirator, and open to every statute under the RICO act.  You have knowingly entered into an organized venture to defraud others of a valuable commodity that they own, and you should be punished.  If you list stolen proerty that has value on a search engine you own, then you have profited from that listing, and have damaged the original owner of that property by not ensuring he recieves the renumeration for the work.  

   Seems to be sensible to me.  If something I own causes damage to something else, I am liable for that damage.  My example is if my dog bites you, it’s my resonsibility.  This plays out all over the country everyday as dog owners are punished for damage their animals perpetrate.  Why not search engine owners when their search engines are used to profit off works stolen from others?