Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood Thinks Google Is To Blame For Infringement On The Web

from the because-Google-uploads-infringing-material-and-whatnot-*eyeroll* dept

Mississippi state attorney general Jim Hood has returned to his old punching bag, Google, for another workout. Back in June, Hood decided it was Google's fault that he could find copyright infringement and counterfeit items on the web. Back then, he complained that Google "gave" him "easy access" to illicit goods and then wondered aloud why it could work its magic with Nazi photos and child porn but somehow couldn't rid the web of infringement as well. He then threatened to issue subpoenas if Google didn't scrub the web clean by his next irate press conference.

Not much has changed, apparently. Hood is again blaming Google for copyright infringement and is using his familiar standard rhetorical props. In a letter to Google counsel Kent Walker, Hood asks why Google "allows" bad things to happen to good people (MPAA, RIAA, etc.).

Hood accused Google of being “unwilling to take basic actions to make the Internet safe from unlawful and predatory conduct, and it has refused to modify its own behavior that facilitates and profits from unlawful conduct.” His letter cites not just piracy of movies, TV shows and music but the sale of counterfeit pharmaceuticals and sex trafficking.

He also pointed out several instances in which Google has screened out criminal content, like child pornography. Nazi-related content, he noted, was removed from search results in Germany, and spam and malware are blocked because they can be damaging to users.

“Google can and does take action against unlawful or offensive conduct — when Google determines it is in its business interests to do so,” Hood wrote.
While a lot of what Hood claims is mostly wrong, the last sentence is especially disingenuous. The Nazi content he's referring to was taken down in order to comply with German and French laws, not because Google felt doing so would be good for the bottom line. Its efforts to curb child pornography are also adding nothing to its profits. It's a collaborative effort done mainly as a public service, but it also is the result of considerable political pressure from various politicians.

Google would presumably take other content down as well if ordered to by a court. As it stands now, Google does make an effort to curb infringement, but despite the fact that it removed 57 million web pages last year (with an average turnaround time of 6 hours), the MPAA (in particular) continues to claim it's not doing enough. What goes unacknowledged is the fact that Google neither encourages infringement nor contributes to infringement. It simply indexes the web.

Google has also made efforts to alter its algorithms to give so-called "rogue sites" lower rankings and it deploys ContentID at YouTube to help filter infringing content out of the 100 hours of video uploaded every minute.

But it's still not enough for critics like Jim Hood. Because Google can filter out child porn (still not 100% -- nor will it ever be), certain people feel filtering out infringing content should be just as "simple." But infringement isn't like child porn and there's simply too much of it out there to expect Google to handle with its human verification system that sorts the child porn from the "kids taking a bath" pictures. Copyright enforcers can't even build a list of rogue sites without grabbing a few false positives. (Hood makes a mention of this in his letter, building off the clearly wrong assumption that defining a rogue site is a simple task.) How's Google supposed to handle 57 million+ allegedly infringing pages without plenty of others sneaking past the detection systems?

Hood also makes these demands in his letter:
— Tailor search results to make websites providing illegal goods or services disappear or appear much lower.
— Program its auto-complete function to prevent suggestions related to illegal activity.
— Promote sites authorized to provide content, including possibly giving them an icon in search results.
— Not sell ads to illegal businesses.
Some of this Google has already done, including altering its search algorithms and stripping certain terms from autocomplete. (I assume Hood's use of the word "tailor" in this context means tailoring search results to make him happy -- rather than, say, adjust weighting, etc.) While I'm sure the MPAA, et al would love to have their preferred sites given preferable ranking, actually doing so would make a mockery of Google's ranking system. As for the ads, Google has taken steps in that direction as well.
When it comes to rogue sites that specialize in online piracy, other anti-piracy strategies will have limited effect so long as there is money to be made by their operators. As a global leader in online advertising, Google is committed to rooting out and ejecting rogue sites from our advertising services, to ensure that they are not being misused to fund these sites. In 2012, we disabled ad serving to more than 46,000 sites for violating our copyright policies, the vast majority detected through our proactive efforts.
What Hood is proposing is to turn Google into a search engine that's only as good as politicians and certain industries will allow it to be. When it starts altering rankings based on political pressure, its flagship offering will become worthless. The danger of allowing a foot in the door is that it encourages the body behind it to follow it inside.

The problems Hood sees in Google are present in all search engines. If it's on the web, it can be indexed (unless instructed otherwise by sites themselves). Sites rise and fall based on algorithms that (supposedly) reflect popularity and trustworthiness. Hood and others like him want a search engine to present a sanitized 'net -- one free of everything that might infringe, offend or cater to illicit tastes. What Hood wants is commonly called "censorship," but his letter attempts to lay the blame for everything that's "wrong" with the web at the feet of the world's most popular search engine. Google's job isn't to make sure everyone with an axe to grind is satisfied with their search results. Its job is to provide a useful, searchable index of the web. Period.

Filed Under: attorney general, jim hood, liability, mississippi, search engines, secondary liability
Companies: google

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  1. icon
    anonymouscoward (profile), 11 Dec 2013 @ 10:13am


    Damn it, hard to find tech companies that don't support infringement these days.

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