Here's the stupidest thing on piracy you're going to read today. Or this month. Maybe even this whole holiday season. Rudy Shur, of Square One Publishers, has a problem with piracy, which he thinks is actually a problem with Google.
After being contacted by Google Play with an offer to join the team, Shur took it upon himself to fire off an angry email in response. That would have been fine, but he somehow convinced Publisher's Weekly to print both the letter and some additional commentary. Presumably, his position at a publishing house outweighed Publisher Weekly's better judgment, because everything about his email/commentary is not just wrong, but breathtakingly so.
After turning down the offer to join Google Play (Shur's previous participation hadn't really shown it to be an advantageous relationship), Shur decided to play internet detective. Starting with this paragraph, Shur's arguments head downhill… then off a cliff… then burst into flames… then the flaming wreckage slides down another hill and off another cliff. (h/t The Digital Reader)
[W]e did discover, however, was that Google has no problem allowing other e-book websites to illegally offer a number of our e-book titles, either free or at reduced rates, to anyone on the Internet.
There's a huge difference between "allowing" and "things that happen concurrently with Google's existence." Shur cannot recognize this difference, which is why he's so shocked Google won't immediately fix it.
When we alerted Google, all we got back was an email telling us that Google has no responsibility and that it is up to us to contact these sites to tell them to stop giving away or selling our titles.
Yep, it's called the DMCA process
. It's been in all the papers. DMCA notices are issued to websites hosting
the pirated material. Google also delists search results in response to DMCA notices. What never
happens is Google arbitrarily delisting sites just because someone notices piracy exists. Google is also not "The Internet" and lacks the power to shut down websites it doesn't own. It is not Google's job to police the web for infringement, no more than it's Yahoo's or Microsoft's.
Undeterred by this illogical conundrum, Shur heads into the "inadvertently comic analogy" territory previously reserved for Thomas Friedman
Let me ask you something. If a store sells knockoff designer handbags, why is it okay for police to come in, confiscate the illegal merchandise, and arrest and fine the store owners? It’s because the store is profiting from the sales of these illegal goods, in the same way Google can increase its advertising rates because these illegal sites increase the number of users it attracts.
No, it's because the store is selling infringing goods. The store has infringing goods on the premises. It's not because the store is "profiting." It's because of what it's doing and what the store contains. A better analogy would be to point out that cops can't raid a business directory company just because it prints out pages that might contain names and addresses of stores selling illicit goods.
The fact that Google advertises on its own search results pages is beside the point. Ads will be served whether or not "pirate sites" show up in the search results. The ads are not tied to illegal activity. Whether or not some ads are "more profitable" (even if Shur's postulation is true) doesn't matter.
And that's not even the worst part of that paragraph. Shur actually is trying to claim that piracy
attracts more people to Google's search engine. Normally, people (misguided
people) try to argue that Google
directs people to pirate sites. Shur reverses this theory and comes out looking even worse than many who share his viewpoint that Google should be in charge of stamping out infringement.
So far, Shur has been unable to be even technically
correct. Now, he attempts to be morally correct.
As a long-time publisher, I’ve been reasonably successful in this business; I also have always attempted to do everything right. That approach has allowed me to work with such companies and groups as Macy’s, the National Science Foundation, Corning Inc., and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, to mention just a few. If Google wants to really work with Square One, I would first ask Google to do the right thing as well. But based on the fact that it would rather hide behind the doctrine of noncensorship, Google doing the right thing doesn’t seem likely.
Whatever. Taking the moral high ground is a terrible way to make a point. It's a way to make a point badly
, but it's only going to resonate with those who sincerely believe companies are morally obligated to do whatever any aggrieved party feels
they should. It's a non-starter, and it only serves to highlight the weakness of the surrounding arguments.
That's the original
flaming wreckage -- all included in Shur's email to Google. What follows is Shur's successful attempt to shove his burning, demolished credibility off another
I wonder how the good people at Google would feel if one of their patented parts or products were to be knocked off and either given away free or incorporated into a cheaper copycat item. Judging from the Wikipedia entry “Google Litigation,” it seems that the company has no problem going after those it has judged as infringing its patents. I wonder if any of the companies it has sued thought of initially responding to Google by sending the following email:
Since we have nothing to do with the actual infringement of your product, we share no responsibility in making it available to the public. Rather, we advise you to take the matter up with the engineering firm that makes the offending part. In the meantime, we will continue to sell the product until the firm stops offering it to us.
To make this analogy work… well, actually you can't. You just cannot make this work.
All the litigation Shur "cites" (with a Wikipedia reference and no link) is defensive
litigation. Very little of it has to do with patents. Google isn't filing lawsuits alleging IP infringement. Google is almost always the defendant, especially
in patent cases.
So, Shur's analogy is completely dismantled by the very reference
he cites in support of it. even before he tries extending it with his "what if" scenario. Even if we play by Shur's rules, the analogy still doesn't hold. The scenario here -- when applied to Shur's "why won't Google shut down pirate sites" argument -- plays out like this:
Google sues YellowPages.com because a company listed in its pages is infringing on its patents. YP gets itself dismissed from the lawsuit by pointing out that it has nothing to do with the alleged infringement. That's Shur's situation applied to his stupid analogy. And it puts him right back at square one, with Google telling him to contact the sites hosting infringing material, rather than Google, if he wants the content taken down.
This makes his attempt to pound the message home that much more pathetic.
Unfortunately for the publishing industry, under Google’s sense of fairness, copyright protection is not equal to patent protection.
Or, more accurately, a whole bunch of people think Google owes them something, especially when IP is involved. Shur thinks Google owes him a piracy-free ebook environment. In support of his theory, he has all these analogies that only make sense to others with the same mindset -- people who believe Google owns the internet and should always be policing it from pirated goods. (Or terrorist content
, people saying mean things
And finally, A CALL TO ARMS!
It is highly doubtful that the email response I sent to the Google representative is going to make Google rethink its policies, but if enough of us raise our voices loud enough, maybe someone at Google will sit up and take notice.
No offense, Shur, but maybe let someone else -- someone who actually understands the things they're talking about -- lead the charge. You can't win if you don't even know what game you're playing.