A few folks have pointed us to this odd article at the UK's Telegraph, in which it claims that Google is "in discussions with payment companies"
to stop funding to "illegal download websites." There are a bunch of problems with this, with the first one being, huh? It's not clear what Google has to do with any of this. The article claims that Google is talking to Visa, Mastercard and PayPal, but why should that be any of Google's concern in the first place. All three of those payment providers are already quite well known for cutting off payments to sites they don't like, including sites accused of being involved in copyright infringement. So what good would further discussions do?
And, of course, really this sounds exactly like Google's response to SOPA. When quizzed about what should be done, Google supported what was called the "follow the money" approach, which was all about getting companies, like Visa, Mastercard and Paypal, to cut off funding to sites deemed to be "illegal." And, that was a component of SOPA -- which Google had hinted would be acceptable (which is yet another point that disproves the whole "SOPA only died because of Google" narrative, since Google would have been perfectly fine with a bill that was just "follow the money.")
If it's true that Google is looking to partner up with these payment processors under some sort of "voluntary" agreement, that's still confusing (what is Google's role here again?), but also quite troubling. The problem, as always, is how do you define "illegal" or sites "dedicated to copyright infringement." Once again, nearly every important technological breakthrough that later became a central piece to how we distribute, promote, consume and monetize content was initially decried for its "infringing" uses. The radio, cable TV, the VCR, the MP3 player, the DVR, YouTube and much much more were all declared "dedicated to infringing uses" by the industry who sought to make them all illegal. Imagine where YouTube would be if such a rule was in place, and their ability to make any revenue was completely barred by such a "voluntary" agreement? Imagine where the VCR would be if no one could sell them since payment processors would refuse to process them?
If this move goes through, it won't be good for the entertainment companies, though it could be good for Google, since it would effectively lock in players like YouTube, and really limit the ability of anyone else to jump into that market. The bizarre part is, of course, that this would be a result of the entertainment industry really pushing Google to do this sort of thing, even though it clearly works to their disadvantage. The end result would be fewer platforms and less competition in the space, giving the few dominant players today much more leverage.
Even so, such a move would still likely come back to bite Google too, because Google benefits from others pushing the innovation envelope as well, creating new markets and services that are good for Google. Cutting off innovative startups by declaring them "illegal" is likely to kill a bunch of good ideas that would have helped the entertainment industry, while still doing nothing of any significance to actually stop infringement.
Either way, if this report is accurate, like with Google caving
to Hollywood's demands over search rankings, it won't satisfy Hollywood (nothing will), it won't stop infringement, but it likely will make consumers worse off by killing off important innovations. That's a shame. Furthermore, it would be yet another example of SOPA happening anyway, despite the protests against the law.
Hopefully the rumors (as confusing as they are) are just rumors and Google execs are smart enough not to bow down to such ridiculous pressure.