Google Issues Its Latest 'Stop Blaming Us For Piracy' Report

from the target-on-its-back dept

Google is big and successful. Some legacy entertainment companies have been struggling. For whatever reason, many of those companies have decided that Google’s success must be the reason for their downfall, and they’ve been blaming Google ever since. It’s pervasive and it’s deeply ingrained. A few years ago, I ended up at a dinner with a recording industry exec (and RIAA board member) who was so absolutely positive that Google was deliberately trying to destroy his business that it was reaching delusional levels. Of course, these legacy players have been banging on this drum for so long that they’ve convinced some others that it must be true, including some content creators and politicians. They all believe that the correlation of Google’s success and their own struggles must be about Google, and not their own failures to innovate. And their number one argument seems to be (ridiculously) that Google “profits” from piracy and therefore Google encourages piracy.

As this drumbeat has gotten louder and louder, Google has felt the need to respond. The company has, for many years, actually done plenty to try to stop piracy, rather than encourage it, and it’s reached the point where Google is (stupidly, in my opinion, though perhaps politically necessary) actively appeasing the legacy industries, sometimes actively making its own search product worse. And, of course, as you would expect, these efforts are never enough for those industries. So now Google has taken to putting out a semi-regular report on how it fights piracy.

Today, Google came out with its latest such report which again shows that Google goes much, much, much further than the law requires — and even much further than many are demanding the company already do. The headline pointer, which will get all the attention, is that YouTube’s ContentID, by itself, has paid out over $2 billion. For some time now, Google has said that it’s paid out over $3 billion to artists, but recent recording industry attack dogs have honed in on the fact that Google never broke out how much of the $3 billion was from ContentID. Now they’re breaking it out somewhat — noting $3 billion to the music industry and $2 billion from ContentID alone. The company also notes that over 98% of copyright management on Youtube is now via ContentID, rather than through DMCA takedown notices.

Of course, whether or not you think this is a good thing may depend heavily on your perspective. I appreciate that ContentID has created a new business model, but of course, we’ve seen how badly it performs in some situations leading to censorship or trollish behavior where some are using it to claim the revenue of other individuals.

The report also takes on the silly myth that Google likes to drive searchers to pirated information. They point out that the company has used the DMCA notices it receives as a signal to demote certain sites in search, and then points out that almost no one does the kinds of queries that still pop up infringing results (and it notes in a footnote that the examples it’s using are ones that have been called out publicly by the RIAA and its friends):

Nevertheless, some critics paint a misleading picture by focusing on the results for rare, ?long tail? queries, adding terms like ?watch? or ?free? or ?download? to a movie title or performer?s name. While the search results for these vanishingly rare queries can include potentially problematic links, it is important to consider how rare those queries are. Look at the relative frequency of these Google searches in 2015:

?Star Wars The Force Awakens? searched 402? more often than ?Watch Star Wars The Force Awakens?

?Taylor Swift? searched 4534x more often than ?Taylor Swift download?

?PSY Gangnam Style? searched 104? more often than ?PSY Gangnam Style download?

?Mad Max? searched 836? more often than ?Mad Max stream?

?Pixels? searched 240? more often than ?Watch Pixels?

And then there’s this:

Google is obviously far from perfect, and as I’ve said in the past (and above!) I think the company goes way too far in trying to appease an industry that is placing a ton of misplaced blame on Google for its own failures to innovate and change with the times. But because so many people seem to be accepting the myths of the legacy industries, now Google feels the need to go even further and release these “guys, we’re doing way more than any law has ever required” reports.

And while I haven’t seen it yet, I can almost guarantee that the RIAA, MPAA and its various friendly groups will be rushing out press releases attacking this as “not enough.” Because it’s never enough when you can blame the more successful company for your own failures.

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Companies: google, youtube

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Comments on “Google Issues Its Latest 'Stop Blaming Us For Piracy' Report”

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Whatever says:

“Google is big and successful.”

Yup. Nobody denies it. However, Google’s numbers are a little bit self serving, if you ask me.

“Katy Perry” by itself will ALWAYS be way more searched than any variation of downloading, mp3, etc. It’s pretty normal. She’s a big star and plenty of people search for her, her latest news, outfits, cleavage shots… whatever it is they like. Many of them would start with a simple “Katy Perry” search. So yeah, guess what, the volume of searches is there.

You also notice that Google is using SPECIFIC single terms. So while “Katy Perry Free Download” might be one of the ways to find a torrent or download, it’s not the only way.

The scale between one search and another really isn’t all that relevant – the numbers, however, tell a big story. If Google does 1 trillion total searches per year, and even if “good” searches are 500 times over “bad” (which is being generous based on Google’s own numbers) then you are looking at 2 billion searches for piracy. So yeah, say what you like, serving up 2 billion less queries that lead to pirate sites would make a difference, like it or not.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Your missing the big picture. It is not Googles job to police the internet, it is the content companies. It is not Googles job to scold, or educate based on some other corporations loosely defined and delusional wishes.

Here is the big picture, it is not up to Google to interpret what peoples motives are, when they are searching for “free (insert phrase here)” or “(phrase) download”.

“Taylor Swift download” could mean the Apple IStore, etc.
“Taylor Swift free download” could be part of a promotion.
“Taylor Swift free” could be anything, tee shirts, music, key rings, pictures, song lyrics, YouTube videos, music from her record label, etc.

Also responding to this with arguments like, its a good bet…, Google knows what these people are asking for…, Google can tell who is going to …, Google knows “X” means… , etc, will go unanswered as it implies the ability to read minds, or predict the future.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Gotta love them specially picked cherries...

While “Katy Perry” will always be searched for more often than “Katy Perry free download”, by the same token it is likely that “Katy Perry free” and “Katy Perry download” are also more often searched for than “Katy Perry free download”.

We aren’t presented with THOSE comparisons, because a) 3 examples don’t make for much more data than 1, and b) they might cloud the point Google is trying to make, especially if they didn’t support Google’s point. But we can’t know if they did, because they weren’t provided.

So pardon me, but this IS a propaganda article, not a research one.

On an entirely different note, I’ll mention that Google’s privacy document makes at least one shout out to Techdirt.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You’re conveniently ignoring the fact that critics of Google have used specific search terms to accuse Google of sending users to pirated content over legitimate content and they have argued that it is so easy to find the pirated content.

Google’s comparisons here are in direct response to that criticism. You can’t honestly pretend that they were supposed to be answering a different question that wasn’t being asked just because you have an inability to let an opportunity to be oppositional pass.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Exactly. Whatever has used the “specific search terms were used, therefore guilty” trope on a couple of occasions, never mind the fact that they were statistically insignificant.

So now that it’s become inconvenient to the “blargle flargle I hate Techdirt” narrative, he’s backpedaling like hell.

Whatever says:

Re: Re: Re:

Actually, I don’t ignore that fact. Rather, I know that Google is very good at manipulating results on specific terms, and it’s been shown before that certain terms that were used (as examples, not as the only piracy searches) were “cleaned up” before Google answered the call.

As an example, if you search “rage against the machine free download” guess what you get? TONS OF PIRATE SITES. Google didn’t clean that one up for their press release.

“Google’s comparisons here are in direct response to that criticism. “

No, their comparisons are made to discredit the other side in no small part by making sure the small narrow selection of searches is “clean”. It’s very hard to take them seriously when you know that they control the results and can make them anything they want, just in time for their report to look good.

Even Mike knows that.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

The mindset of the moment that seems to have gripped the world… it is a zero sum game. There is only 1 finite pot of money, and if someone else has more they took it from me.

This might be born out of the same insane thinking that record labels always make the same amount of money, because music is eternal.
Even when they have great years, they bemoan the drop in 8 track sales. They think someone listening to a stream should pay them as much as someone who bought it on vinyl. They have made their cash from selling physical items, that they can’t figure out why people want to pay them less for 1’s & 0’s that cost them so much less to deliver.

Of course they don’t discuss how much of their losses are from investing in snake oil salesmen, who promised they could stop all the piracy and usher in a golden age of profits… and it does nothing but make the labels look more out of touch & stupid. But they keep paying for the snake oil, because this time it is going to work… because if they stop, in their minds, they will have surrendered to the pirates… when reversing the course and embracing new technology & knocking down barriers that make no sense in a digital age would increase profits.

But Google is the whipping boy, it can’t be a bunch of old men listening to horror stories late at night cowering under the covers to stay safe from the boogeymen of their own imaginations. It can’t be that treating a digital file like a physical object makes no sense to anyone but them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The thing that is limited is a persons time, and after a few podcasts, some podiobooks, and a bit of jamendo, and catching up with various maker on Youtube, I never seem to have any time left in the day for RIAA music. Their perpetual, everybody must be a pirate message only encourage me to look elsewhere for my entertainment, and the MPAA memeber should also take note of this.

John85851 (profile) says:

Two points

First, isn’t it a little misleading for Google to say that paid *anything* to the artists when they actually send payments to the record labels?

Second, here’s a hint for the movie studios: if I search for “Watch The Force Awakens”, the top results better be Netflix, Amazom, Hulu, iTunes, or any number of legal sites. Oh, wait, it’s not available on these sites due to exclusive contracts with a website that has a terrible user interface? Then no wonder people are looking for illegal versions.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Two points

Come now, the labels are constantly assuring everyone that their first and foremost concern is the well-being of artists, I’m certain that every single payment sent their way is immediately sent on to the artists, with the labels themselves taking only a modest amount to cover processing and administrative costs, so a payment to the labels is a payment to the artists.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Google is big and successful. Some legacy entertainment companies have been struggling. For whatever reason, many of those companies have decided that Google’s success must be the reason for their downfall, and they’ve been blaming Google ever since.

“For whatever reason”? How about “because Google has been out-competing them and thereby actively contributing to their downfall,” AKA exactly how capitalism is supposed to work? When you suck at competing or adapting to the times, or simply stop trying, someone else is going to come along and eat your lunch. The MAFIAA understands exactly what’s going on; they just don’t want to put forth the effort required to fix it.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Hanging on by the (gold plated) skin of their teeth

Funny thing, despite being on the ‘verge of death’ for decades now thanks to the boogieman known as ‘piracy’, movies and music still tend to rake in the cash, often at the record breaking levels.

I imagine a great many other companies and industries would love to be under a similar ‘existential threat’, given how profitable it seems to be.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Hanging on by the (gold plated) skin of their teeth

And that’s one of the big things that really pisses me off about them. They’ve been claiming that one innovation after another must be illegal and is killing them for a century or even longer yet they have done little to nothing to adapt and change. Yet they’re allowed to continue to cry wolf decade after decade and people keep listening and believing them, especially politicians but they’re mostly bribed into doing their bidding. And of course profits continue to rise year after year during all of it.

It would be nice financially if my job worked like that, just claim someone is killing my business but then continue doing the same thing and not give people what they want but somehow continue to bring in more each year.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Hanging on by the (gold plated) skin of their teeth

It’s worse than that when you think about it. Not only are the entertainment industries not dying, they’re paying increasing amounts to their respective bands of armed thugs to DMCA, subpoena, harass and do all sorts of unsavory things to scared Internet users and ransom them for cash.

So the industry isn’t dying – far from it, it’s making so much money that they can afford to pay their private police forces and bribe governments to pass laws (never mind if they actually go through). And not only that, every year they keep whining about the rampant increase in piracy, which means all the money they’re spending isn’t helping.

Put it another way, the RIAA/MPAA work a job where they not only do not get penalized if they fuck up, but they get paid more money than ever. They are literally being paid to do a horrible job. It’s no wonder they just can’t let go of this gravy train of crack and hookers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Hanging on by the (gold plated) skin of their teeth

Yup, basically the same as Wall Street and the mega banks.
Do a great job = shit ton of money
mediocre job = shit ton of money
horrible job = shit ton of money
Destroy the economy and housing market = shit ton of money + shit ton of bailout money plus a shit ton of bonuses all around

Chuck says:

Drop to their level

I realize that, in any argument where there is high ground to be found, the path most desirable is to choose the high ground and refuse to drop to the level of your opponent.

But you can’t win that way. The problem, in all of this, is exactly as you stated: they’re delusional. If you want to win this battle, you’re going to have to engage their delusion and defeat them on their own turf.

So let’s do that.

Their arguments are many and varied and all equally (and fatally) flawed, but let’s look at the first one you mentioned. “Google profits from piracy.” The logic behind this is fairly straightforward: Google places ads on their search results, so every time someone searches, including for pirated material, Google makes money.

There are two basic flaws with this argument. First, Google doesn’t make money from displaying ads. They make money from customers of AdWords buying ads. This is an important distinction. If I had a cupcake store, and I bought 10,000 impressions (i.e. ads displayed) from AdWords, that’s when Google made their money. If all 10,000 of my ads were displayed on a search for “Cupcakes” then Google would’ve already made their money before any of that happened. And if all 10,000 of my ads were displayed on a search for “Cupcakes: The Movie torrent” then Google would’ve already made their money before any of that happened, too. In other words, Google literally doesn’t make a single red cent from piracy because they make their money up front.

Second, let’s disregard all that sound logic and look at the underlying implication for a moment. Google sells impressions, not clicks, but most internet advertisers sell clicks. Now, in theory, if Google did sell clicks instead, they’d only make their money (or rather, only be able to transfer the money from an escrow/holding account to money Google can actually go spend) when an ad gets clicked. For that to happen, the person searching has to see the ad, and then actively want to click it.

Back to the previous example, someone searching for “Cupcake: The Movie” might see an ad for movie tickets and actually click it. That’s a very real possibility. But I’m willing to bet someone searching for “Cupcakes: The Movie torrent” is not interested in buying movie tickets. In fact, I think that’s the one thing we can say about them for certain, so they wouldn’t click the ad.

And therein lies the rub. Anyone who isn’t willing to pay $3 to stream a movie on a legitimate service is also almost certainly not going to be clicking any ads for anything even vaguely related to that movie. Ads exist to sell things, and the pirate is a pirate, so he isn’t buying.

So there ya go, 1 MPAA myth busted, probably around 10,000 more to go. But guys, this is the only way we’ll ever win. It’s messy dropping down to their level, but you can’t defeat crazy with principal.

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