RIAA: Google Isn't Trying Hard Enough To Make Piracy Disappear From The Internet

from the but-of-course dept

When Google first caved in to the legacy entertainment industry's demands to start modifying search results to downrank sites that received a lot of DMCA notices, we quickly warned that the RIAA and MPAA would never think that it was enough, and would continue to whine and complain. Yesterday, we pointed out that the RIAA was bitching and complaining about how many DMCA notices they could submit (which turned out to be a case of the RIAA failing to RTFM). But that was just the prelude for today, when the RIAA would release a "report card" on how Google's new filtering was going. Guess what? They're not happy, and apparently they won't be happy until Google magically makes all infringement disappear (*poof*).
Six months later, we have found no evidence that Google’s policy has had a demonstrable impact on demoting sites with large amounts of piracy. These sites consistently appear at the top of Google’s search results for popular songs or artists.
For everyone else in the world, if they're not satisfied with how the sites they favor rank in Google, they learn a little something about search engine optimization. But, noooooooo, not the RIAA. They think that it is a requirement that Google be tailored to them directly.
Well-known, authorized download sites, such as iTunes, Amazon and eMusic, only appeared in the top ten results for a little more than half of the searches. This means that a site for which Google has received thousands of copyright removal requests was almost 8 times more likely to show up in a search result than an authorized music download site. In other words, whatever Google has done to its search algorithms to change the ranking of infringing sites, it doesn't appear to be working.
Well, that's one interpretation. Another one (the right one) is that whatever the industry itself has done to raise the rankings of those sites by effectively competing in the marketplace "doesn't appear to be working." iTunes, in particular, is locked up in its own little walled garden with few people "linking in" (a big part of how Google determines relevance). Do people still use eMusic any more? The problem seems to be that those other sites just aren't where people look for stuff when they're searching Google for the music. That's not Google's fault.

Of course, what all this continues to demonstrate, beyond the fact that the RIAA will never, ever be satisfied until Google wipes out all infringement with the magic "piracyBgone" button, is that the RIAA still just doesn't understand search. The methodology here is suspect:
For this analysis we performed searches for [artist] [track] mp3 and [artist] [track] download over a period of several weeks starting December 3, 2012
First big mistake: the RIAA simply does not seem to know that Google does not deliver the same results to everyone. That change a while back. They try to tailor specific responses to specific users, based on what those users are searching for. So, if the RIAA is seeing those sites ranked higher, perhaps it says something about where the RIAA is commonly looking for stuff...

Also, here's the thing that the RIAA just doesn't seem to get. Google's entire business and algorithm are built, ground up, around the idea of understanding what people are looking for when they search, and then taking them to that place. The RIAA might not like it, but the simple fact is that when people are searching for [artist] [track] mp3 and [artist] [track] download, chances are they're not looking to buy, but to download for free. So that's what Google is showing them. That's not Google's fault. That's what the person is searching for. Even if Google magically did show them Apple, Amazon and Emusic as the top results for every [artist] [track] mp3 and [artist] [track] download, the people doing those searches wouldn't go there, because they're not looking to buy. If they did a search on "[artist] [track] buy" perhaps there would be different results.

If you actually compare apples to apples, and look at the kinds of sites that people are probably looking for, the RIAA's own "data" seems to suggest that Google is, in fact, demoting sites that receive a lot of takedowns.
Note that in those last two categories, sites that have received more than 10,000 DMCA notices appear less frequently than those with closer to 1,000 DMCA notices. The other three categories are red herrings, because those aren't where people are looking for when they do searches on either [artist] [track] mp3 or [artist] [track] download.

Basically, this just reinforces two (completely unsurprising points):
  1. The RIAA will never, ever be satisfied, no matter what Google does. Which again, reinforces the idea that it was probably a bad idea to even cave in in the first place.
  2. The RIAA still doesn't understand how search works, nor does it seem to have any interest in learning. It doesn't understand that every single other website in the world has to work hard to lift themselves up in Google's search rankings. They don't get to specifically call out sites they don't like and automatically force Google to lower their rankings. The RIAA gets a massive headstart on every other site in the world... and they still haven't figured out how to take advantage of this.
Of course, it's not just the RIAA. Musically points out that the RIAA's complaints are only the latest in a long line. The MPAA and BPI have already made similar complaints. And they'll continue to complain, because it gives them an excuse for not doing what they should be doing, which is helping the companies they represent adapt to the internet era. It's much easier to just blame a third party -- especially when doing so without understanding the very fundamentals of how a search engine works.

Filed Under: copyright infringement, demotions, filtering, piracy, search
Companies: google, riaa


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  1. identicon
    John, 21 Feb 2013 @ 10:51am

    What amazes me about copyright is it is a crude attempt to make copies into a commodity, so it fits capitalism better. This may not be a bad thing in principle.

    However, they then want to maintain tight control over who can sell that commodity rather than just set a wholesale price and let third parties buy and sell it.

    If they just gave up control and set a wholesale price, there would be plenty of sites out there giving good search results and options for consumers to do it the 'legal' way.

    You would get sites specialising and curating certain genres for certain tastes etc. As taste is so important with any art form, that would be great for consumers - companies that understand their fans in detail.

    I can buy and sell baked beans or toys, so why not music?

    Any commodity that isn't actually dangerous should be available for resale.

    Copyright can't make up it's mind if it is about money or control. It needs to make a choice.

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