Too Much Free Time

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
blogs, copying, copyright, software, spam

google, siia

Tech Journalist Recommends Suing Google Over Spam Blogs?

from the uh,-tom,-what? dept

I like reporter Tom Foremski and have linked to his stories in the past. I've never met the man, but we've emailed a few times in the past. But everyone has those days when they write something they clearly haven't thought much about, and it looks like Tom had one of those days recently. Dark Helmet alerts us to a short blog post that Foremski did for ZDNet that is all kinds of awful. The main focus is on suggesting that you turn in colleagues using unauthorized software to the SIIA to try to claim a $1 million prize. This is a really sleazy process used by the SIIA and the BSA for years. Perhaps you can forgive Tom for not knowing much about how these organizations work, but plenty of other reporters have detailed how these organizations bully companies who can't figure out how to produce the exact evidence that these organizations demand as "proof." These organizations are just nasty, often harming small businesses just because they can't find their specific licensing agreement on a legitimately purchased software application. Encouraging this kind of behavior is not a good idea, Tom.

And, of course, that claim that there's a "$1 million prize" is great for headlines, like the one Tom wrote, but the details always tell a different story. The real "prizes" are "up to $1 million." A few years back, we asked for proof that the BSA actually paid out a million dollar prize, and offered a similarly termed "up to $1 million" reward for anyone who could prove that the BSA paid someone $1 million. Of course, they couldn't, because these groups don't actually pay that much. In fact, in the year after we asked for proof of the $1 million prize, the BSA actually paid out a grand total of $136,000 to 42 different people -- an average of about $3,200. Putting the $1 million prize in the headline is playing into their bogus claims. It's the sort of thing that reporters shouldn't be doing. Let them put out their bogus press releases, but reporters should be debunking them.

Finally, in trying to explain why this is a good idea, Tom makes an odd and totally misapplied analogy:
I know that ZDNet for example, faces problems with its content being scraped and illegally being used on web sites that try to make money by running Google ads next to it. It's often difficult to stop that practice because it's tough to track down the owners.

But if SIIA went after Google, because it profits from illegal use of copyrighted content, then that would go a long way to stamping out that practice.
First off, we face the same "problem" here at Techdirt, with lots of sites scraping our content and putting it on other sites plastered with Google ads. Except, that we know it's not actually a "problem." Most of those sites get very little, if any, traffic, and search engines are smart enough these days to put the originator higher up in the results. The ad views on these sites aren't costing the original site any revenue. And, if they actually are getting any traffic, it doesn't take long for people to realize the original source and start going there instead. This isn't a "problem."

Second, what the hell does scraping sites have to do with turning your colleagues in for using unlicensed software? The two are totally different situations and have nothing to do with each other.

Finally, if SIIA went after Google because it profits from illegal use of copyrighted content, the lawsuit would be thrown out of court as soon as Google's lawyers said "DMCA safe harbors." This is pretty basic stuff, and someone who's been a tech reporter for as long as Foremski should know better than to think that it's either legal or sensible to suggest that an organization sue a third party that profits off of the potentially infringing activity of someone else. As Dark Helmet noted with his submission:
This is 3rd party culpability, which is odd coming from a blogger and journalist. Has he ever ran a story about something illegal that was done? And did that publication have advertisements on it? So didn't he profit from the illegal activity? Shouldn't he have the FBI going after him for such illicit behavior?"
Again, Tom usually does pretty good work, so I'm going to chalk this up to a rushed post without putting much thought into what he was saying.

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