Microsoft didn’t expect the web scrapers to fight back. It seemed so obvious to the massive multinational firm: We own the LinkedIn content that we paid billions of dollars to acquire. What Microsoft didn’t realize (and not for the first time*) was that the people who created the content were its actual owners.
The implications of the recent HiQ v. LinkedIn decision are hugely important and rival the impact of the 1994 Feist decision that confirmed that facts couldn’t be copyrighted. Microsoft was ordered to remove “any technology preventing hiQ from accessing public profiles” thus reversing a string of legal and technical actions that had been taken by the firm to build a fortress around their resume’ database.
These actions displayed a stunning misreading of both copyright law and of the business opportunities that have been at LinkedIn’s door for many years now. Instead of spending time and resources shoring up a one-dimensional recruitment database product, LinkedIn should have been creating a series of easy-to-use APIs that would allow LinkedIn data to be embedded into thousands of applications for free with a minimal cost associated with using certain specific tools.
Microsoft has certainly pivoted before so they may still be able to adjust their LinkedIn business model to capture the billions in potential revenues they are now foregoing. In the mean time, the web scrapers of the world will be the ones helping others to monetize LinkedIn data.
* In 1995 I attended Microsoft’s MSN launch party in Redmond where the country’s largest content providers were told how they were going to give Microsoft their content for free because of all the exposure the content owners would get. Every single person who attended that confab walked away disliking Microsoft’s arrogance and wondering how they so thoroughly misunderstood the way the information business actually worked.