Is Google's copying complaint fair or hypocritical?

When involved in a spat over allegations of unauthorized copying or misappropriation of content and ideas, Google -- fairly or not -- usually plays the villain, accused of parasitically overstepping boundaries to profit from someone else's work.

It's been accused of that many times informally. At times, it has faced copyright lawsuits over services like its Books search engine, Google News site and YouTube video sharing site.

But on Tuesday, Google's role was reversed. It irately charged Microsoft with sneakily capturing the top Google results for various queries and grafting them into the Bing search engine. It lobbed its complaint in an article on the Search Engine Land blog and continued it during an onstage panel at a search event.

While the merits of Google's accusation are up for debate -- Microsoft denies the charge -- the fact that Google chose to complain in such a loud and agitated manner has become fertile ground for analysis and comment by industry observers.

Opinions range from those who view Google's actions as hypocritical to others who say the company did the right thing by airing its grievance.

Between the two extremes is plenty of speculation. For example, some wonder if the incident reflects a new, more reactive attitude toward slights emanating from Larry Page, the Google co-founder who will become CEO in April and is considered more volatile and less diplomatic than outgoing CEO Eric Schmidt.