I came across a story published on today’s Torrent Freak highlighting the conflict between content creators and Google over the search giant’s search results that routinely point to pirated content. As I pointed out in a blog post last week, despite Google’s much ballyhooed August announcement that they would downgrade (not remove) search results for sites routinely reported for piracy, not much has changed.
Per TorrentFreak, and in typical Google fashion, Google’s Legal Director Fred von Lohmann, employs the oft-used boilerplate, disingenuous refrain that the rise in takedown requests could be considered an attack on free speech:
“As policymakers evaluate how effective copyright laws are, they need to consider the collateral impact copyright regulation has on the flow of information online.”
Von Lohmann goes on to complain that when Google instituted their “new” search ranking policy, they received more than 250,000 takedown requests per week and that number has grown to more than 2.5 million. While von Lohmann characterizes this trend as evidence that ”flow of information online” is being obstructed, I see it as evidence that there is a ton of infringing content/product online that has, until now, efficiently flowed (via Google search) from thief to consumer, impervious to any limit or law. Why should we have sympathy for sites linking to pirated or counterfeit goods? How is that an attack on free speech? It’s not.
Why is that the rights of piracy’s victims–the content creators large and small who work to create films, music, books and more–are discounted in favor of thieves who profit from their crimes? Check out those reported search results and you will find hundreds of websites that make money by distributing access to pirated/stolen goods, some in digital form, some as tangible (counterfeit) products. Marc Miller, MPAA’s Senior Vice President for Internet Content Protection points out this inconsistency in TorrentFreak:
“Google’s reading of the data is missing some critical perspective: if the process is cumbersome for Google, it is even more cumbersome for the creators and makers who must constantly be on the lookout to protect their work from theft,”
Piracy apologists like to focus on erroneous takedowns and highlight stories whereby a 9 year-old in Finland had her computer confiscated, or a grandmother in Colorado had her ISP account wrongfully suspended. Certainly mistakes happen, and when they do it’s unfortunate, but they are few and far between when compared with the cumulative harm being done to those whose livelihoods are damaged by rampant online theft. For every search result removed in error there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, removed for valid reasons. Sensationalistic anecdotes make for splashy headlines and provide convenient red-herrings for those who defend the piracy status quo–big bad Hollywood versus the grandmothers of the world–but meanwhile the genuine stories documenting piracy’s ruin are routinely minimized or ignored.
Also lost in this debate is the fact that if one takes the time to read the DMCA, it’s easy to see that the law actually favors the reported party, not the other way around. If a site has been removed in error, the owner can use the Google website to file a counter-claim with a click of a mouse. That immediately puts the onus on the party that filed the original DMCA request to go to court and prove the legitimacy of their claim. If that next step isn’t taken, the takedown becomes moot. Filing a court case is a costly endeavor so it’s unlikely that those whose file false DMCA claims, whether in error or purposely, would bother to spend money to enforce a bogus DMCA. Conversely, those content creators who don’t have deep pockets have little recourse when it comes to enforcing a valid DMCA takedown if the other party, representing an infringing (pirate) website, chooses to file a counter-claim.
There’s no denying the current process is rather unwieldy and somewhat broken, but when it comes to rights being at risk, I don’t believe Google has much to complain about. Sure it costs time and money to process the takedowns and remove offending search results–but isn’t that just the cost of doing business? There’s a price paid by those who create content–why should it be any different for those who profit by disseminating it?