Google’s Move to Copyright Cop Had to Happen

By Mike McGuire | December 6, 2010 | 3 Comments

It’s quite interesting to note how one blog post can both illuminate and obfuscate hugely complex issues.

An example? Here’s one right here. Google’s chief legal counsel, Kent Walker, pledges that Google will work even harder to make sure that copyright holders which send take-down notices because unlicensed content is on, for example, YouTube. That’s a nice gesture but, frankly, it’s been the rule of the road since the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) went into effect. (To qualify for the DMCA’s “safe harbor” provisions a site must take down copyrighted material when requested by the copyright holder.)

So, adherence to takedown notices, check.  Well done. And Walker notes that the company will improve its “counter-notice” procedures for those who post content that is removed for alleged copyright infringement. This is a nod to so-called “fair use” exemptions to copyright infringement claims. And boy, is that going to be a slippery slope. (The obfuscation of a complex issue.)

Two other items in Walker’s post, however, are worthy of discussion – and watching in the future: the promise to “. . . prevent terms closely associated with piracy from appearing in Autocomplete” and a promise to “. . . improve our AdSense anti-piracy review” to make sure web pages trafficking in infringing content are blocked and that violators are expelled from AdSense. (The illumination.)

What Google surely wants to avoid is any liability for copyright infringement (and earlier this year it won the first round in the $1 billion lawsuit Viacom filed brought against Google/YouTube but the media giant is vowing to appeal) but links ain’t copyrighted. This means Google is taking, for them, a fairly bold step in saying it’s going to be carefully policing AdSense so that when a user types in “free music,” links to possible file-trading software or illicit Torrents are filtered out.  I say bold because it’s quite possible that Google might have been deriving some folding money, as grandpa used to call it, from the operators of such allegedly nefarious software. (I said “might” and “allegedly.”)

So why did all this “ have to happen”? Because business is business, that’s why.  Google’s rumored online music service, its announced Google TV offering, not to mention the Viacom suit all hinge on Google being perceived and acting as an ally of rightsholders.  As a matter of law, the safe harbor provisions can and should protect Google from what happens between individual consumers and the sources of information or content on the Internet that they just happen to use Google search to locate. 

But that all changes when a company decides it wants to get in the business of actually generating users and money from content – as opposed to making it indirectly by merely providing a tool to find that content.

So, to all the media companies out there, you got something you’ve always wanted: a Google that’s willing to be a bit more engaged in your efforts to tame the Internet beast. 

To all those who thought Google was your copy-left friend, I say, business is business. Get over it.

3 Comments
  1. 7 December 2010 at 1:23 am
    Deborah S says:

    Honestly, I don’t think any of the measures Google is promising to take will make a bit of difference to file sharers and torrent sites.* But if it makes the content masters feel warm and fuzzy that Google is on their side, goodie.

    * 1) search term autocomplete: It was only a few years ago that there was no autocomplete, so veteran filesharers won’t miss the extra “help” when its withdrawn, and the newbies will get up to speed fast. At least, Google hasn’t said anything about disabling the filetype:torrent search parameter. Besides, most filesharers use the torrent indexing sites to find torrents anyway. Google is just a last ditch resource to try to find a rare torrent that might not be indexed on any torrent sites.

    2) Adsense: While startup torrent sites might be heavily relying on Google for ad income, the world is fairly bursting with other ad networks who love making their pitches to the filesharing crowd. The migration away from Google Adsense will be almost instantaneous, without a penny’s loss in income for the torrent sites.

  2. 7 December 2010 at 12:12 pm
    Mike McGuire says:

    thanks for checking out the blog, Deborah…Don’t disagree with you that the torrent and p2p users will be deterred at all. in fact, aren’t they already moving to hardened systems anyhow?

  3. 7 December 2010 at 2:45 pm
    Deborah S says:

    I’ve only been paying attention for the last few years, but it seemed to me that there was a ramp up in “hardening” when Comcast was filtering their network for p2p traffic and throttling it, and then again after the first Pirate Bay trial. It started with encrypting p2p packets to foil the traffic shapers and shortly stepped up to using VPNs to avoid both traffic shaping and spying. And on the political side, the Pirate Bay trial literally brought the Pirate Party to life in Europe and North America. It seems like the only real political accomplishment they’ve had to date is snagging an EU seat and using it to bargain with other parties to vote with them on pirate issues, in exchange for their vote on other issues, which really isn’t something to be entirely sneezed at. But the Pirate Party is proving to be a technological force as well, providing government-hostile hosting for the Pirate Bay and more recently for Wikileaks. The latest is that a new P2P DNS system is in development, presumably using P2P for worldwide distribution of domain name/IP address information, with .p2p and a host of other top level domains that no government will be able to “seize”. (I’m assuming you know about the 82 domain names seized by Homeland Security and ICE for copyright infringement, and the COICA legislation in the Senate to make it legal that’s been in the news lately, and this new DNS system is the technological response.) Filesharers would have to install and use the new system, but this would be a small matter.

    It’s a rather fascinating ecosystem to watch. A modern day virtual battleground where, at least to date, no one has been physically wounded or killed. Well, the Pirate Bay four are being threatened with jail sentences and that would suck. But the appeals are far from over, and the jail sentences were reduced in the last round. And the forces in play are not exactly trivial ones either. Big Money and Big Government against Freedom. A lot of blood has been shed in that conflict over the millenia, but this time it has a new and different twist to it.

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