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.