Google pretends to fight piracy

Google releases another self-serving piracy report

On Friday Google announced an update to last year’s “How Google Fights Piracy” that included this claim:

In October 2014, we have improved and refined the DMCA demotion signal in search results, increasing the effectiveness of just one tool rightsholders have at their disposal.

Given that last year’s report was little more than a puff-piece designed to deflect growing criticism that Google is, in fact, a major enabler of online piracy--and profits from it in various ways–this new report seems to be more Silicon Valley search giant spin.

Google’s piracy report begins by crowing about how many billions artists have made thanks to its YouTube platform.  No mention, of course, how many billions Google has pocketed thanks to said content and the billions more it continues to earn off the millions of infringing video and music clips posted annually to the site.  Take a look at YouTube any day of the week and you’ll find infringing content laden with advertisements.  Where does that profit go?  It ends up in the pirate’s pockets and Google coffers.

Yes, the company has instituted a Content ID system but remember it did so only after enormous pressure (and lawsuits) from those whose work was being ripped off right and left.  Even that system puts the burden on creators to sign up and constantly monitor YouTube for infringements.   Not every creators has the wherewithal, or the time, to act as a security guard for their own work.  Wouldn’t we prefer they be creating more music or films?

Google uses the report to pat itself on the back for testimony given last March by Google’s Senior Copyright Policy Counsel Katherine Oyama  before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet:

In our testimony, we note our own experiences with the notice-and-takedown process, and highlight its importance in a developing media landscape where online platforms are creating more and more opportunities for creators every year.

Great, so you’re helping create an online landscape that offers more opportunities to creators….sure, if you’re a creator of cat videos.

She also gave a rosy assessment of how well the DMCA works for everyone:

The DMCA’s shared responsibility approach works. Copyright holders identify infringement and,if they choose, request its removal. Upon notification, online service providers remove or disable access to the infringing material. This approach makes sense, as only copyright holders know what material they own, what they have licensed, and where they want their works to appear online. Service providers cannot by themselves determine whether a given use is infringing.

Perhaps the last line should read, “Service providers have chosen not to make any attempt to determine whether a given use is infringing even after its reported as being such.”  As the RIAA noted in a point by point rebuttal rebuttal of her testimony:

The DMCA did not intend for service providers like Google to get away with indexing rogue sites again and again after clear notice of rampant
infringement, creating an endless source of frustration for copyright owners.

There’s no doubt that the “safe harbor” provisions of the DMCA has given companies like Google the freedom to build a business model dependent, to a large extent,  on copyright infringement to fuel its growth.  It’s a landscape where content creators are at a distinct disadvantage from the get go.  In the online world, filmmakers, musicians and other creators–and not the uploader–have to prove they are the rightful owners of uploaded content.  In what other universe are property owners at such a disadvantage?   If Google wants to use another company’s software in one of its products, do its engineers just take it when another company owns rights to it?  Probably not. They seek a license (or buy the company outright).

But I digress…back to Google’s updated report.  Google touts how efficient and streamlined its online content removal process is and notes that 80 companies have access to a “trusted submitter” program which streamlines the process of notice and takedown:

In addition to the public content removal web form for copyright owners who have a proven track record of submitting accurate notices and who have a consistent need to submit thousands of URLs each day, Google created the Trusted Copyright Removal Program for Web Search (TCRP). This program streamlines the submission process, allowing copyright owners or their enforcement agents to submit large volumes of URLs on a consistent basis. There are now more than 80 TCRP partners, who together submit the vast majority of notices every year.

What about those of us who don’t have access to this TCRP program?  There are plenty of content creators who find their work pirated repeatedly on various Google platforms, from Blogger to search, who are forced to send in DMCA notices via a web form over and over again. (FYI this “efficient” form doesn’t even allow for auto-fill of submitters name and contact information).  I’ve written about how inefficient Google’s takedown procedure is for those of us who aren’t “trusted submitters” and frankly, it sucks.  I included this slide show in a post I wrote earlier this year explaining just how difficult it was to remove pirated content from Google’s Blogger platform.  Efficient is not an adjective I would use.

Revolution Slider Error: Slider with alias Google_DMCA_circus not found.

In another demonstration of how Google is adept at transforming a sow’s ear into a silk purse, the report touts the rise in takedown requests as a great thing, not a sign of just how rampant online theft is on Google platforms:

Since launching new submission tools for copyright owners and their agents in 2011, we have seen remarkable growth in the number of pages that copyright owners have asked us to remove from search results. [emphasis added] In fact, today we receive removal requests for more URLs every week than we did in the twelve years from 1998 to 2010 combined. At the same time, Google is processing the notices we receive for Search faster than ever before—currently, on average, in less than six hours.

Rather than celebrate how they’ve responded to a growth in the number of takedown notices received and processed (not something to brag about IMHO) why not work toward creating an online environment where it would not be necessary for rights holders to send DMCA notices time and time again, often for the same pirate website and duplicate infringing links?  As the RIAA noted in its response to Oyama’s testimony:

… we’ve sent more than 2 million notices to Google regarding illegal site mp3skull.com, and yet Google still lists mp3skull at the top of search results when users search for an artist’s name + song title + ‘download.’ Google still has a lot of work to do in this area.

In its report Google repeats its tired claim that “search is not a major driver of traffic to pirate sites.”   Maybe in Google’s world, but not in the real one.  As the MPAA study, Understanding the Role of Search in Online Piracy points out:

Search is an important resource for consumers when they seek new content online, especially for the first time. 74% of consumers surveyed cited using a search engine as either a discovery or navigational tool in their initial viewing sessions on domains with infringing content.

No matter how Google frames it, the basic truth is that Google search remains a path to piracy, a fact even piracy websites acknowledge and as I noted in an earlier blog post.

In its sidebar, the website (primewire.ag) has posted a poll asking this question:  How did you find us through our new name?  

According to the results users turned, in large numbers,  to that tried and true source for pirated content worldwide, Google search.  Nearly 200,000 (29.88 %) users chose Google as their path to the site, second only to word of mouth which took top honors at 43%.  While the poll is not scientific, it does provide more anecdotal evidence to what most believe to be true, Google is a major sign post on the path to online piracy.  Even when pirate sites run into trouble with other pirates hacking and stealing their domains (ironic isn’t it), leave it to Google to come to the rescue.

Yes, Google still does have a lot of work to do in this area.  Until then, reports like the “update” released last week mean nothing beyond fuel for the PR spin machine.  The proof is in the pudding and right now the ingredients are still in the box, on the shelf, waiting for Google to get real in the fight against online piracy (for profit).