The Recording Industry Association of America is mad. This time, the ire of the RIAA is not directed at Blogger-hosted sites pointing to zip files of new albums on Megaupload. Nor is it directed at the college students who would dare to click the “download” button on such sites.
Instead, the RIAA is lashing out at Google, whose search engine is the gateway to the Web for hundreds of millions of people. Over the last year or so, Google has been making it a bigger priority to discourage copyright infringement among people who use its various Web services. Those measures, the RIAA has argued, are not enough.
Google first promised to make a handful of copyright-friendly changes to its search engine last December and by September of this year was reporting that major progress had been made. When users enter certain piracy-related search terms into Google’s search box, they won’t see autocomplete suggestions, as the company has filtered them out. They’re also responding to YouTube video takedown requests in a much more timely fashion, sometimes a little too quickly. Changes like this are a priority for Google, which seeks to bolster its relationships with content owners and media companies so it can further build out initiatives like Google Music and Google TV.
The RIAA isn’t satisfied. In a rather scathing “report card” on Google’s anti-piracy efforts, the music industry group gave the company an overall grade of “incomplete” and went on to harshly criticize their efforts as being inadequate.
For one thing, the RIAA thinks Google could be investing more time and energy into stopping piracy. The search giant spent $60 million on these efforts, which the RIAA points out is a very tiny percentage of their total revenue. The group argues that other Internet players, such as payment processors and ISPs have done more to combat piracy and that Google has a “special responsibility” to do more.
Tightening the Reins on Android Apps and Users’ Takedown Appeals
The organization takes issue with Google’s slow removal times for taking down copyright-infringing Android apps. The Android Marketplace, which is less tightly regulated than Apple’s mobile app store, leaves more leeway for thing like malware and apps that violate copyright. The RIAA spends a paragraph lashing Google for not being more timely about app takedown requests, but does briefly concede “that Google has improved its takedown speeds for links to infringing files in search results and on hosted blogs to less than 24 hours.”
Still, the organization complains that Google makes it too easy for uploaders to appeal takedown notices. If the recent YouTube spat between Universal Music Group and Megaupload is any indication, it would appear that major labels still have the upper hand in that process.
RIAA: Please Censor This, Even Though It’s Not Illegal
The RIAA acknowledges where Google has made progress in the last year, but in each case, argues that it could be doing a lot more. For every piracy-related term that has been filtered out of autocomplete, there are a half a dozen that the RIAA thinks should also be tossed out.
For example, their report takes issue with the fact that typing “lady gaga mp3” leads to the autocomplete result “lady gaga mp3 download”, which can lead users to sources of illegal downloads. This may be the case, but downloading MP3 files is not an inherently illegal act, so we can understand why Google wouldn’t want to censor those terms.
This part of the report is particularly unconvincing. The Lady Gaga example they provide is flimsy and no additional evidence is offered that Google has done a shoddy job of blocking piracy-related terms from autocomplete. We have to imagine this is an ongoing process within Google and one that must carefully balance the interests of rights holders with the sensitivities of Google’s users, many of whom will balk at any sign of perceived censorship.
The Devil in the Details: SOPA
Many of the RIAA’s demands are not unreasonable. Blatant piracy should be harder to conduct in the Android Marketplace. There are a few of its own policies that Google could do a better job of enforcing.
Still, the report underplays the progress Google has made and has a certain angry, zealous ring to it. When you reach the end of the document, you get a better sense of where some of the frustration is coming from.
“While professing to agree that copyright infringement is a serious problem that needs to be addressed, Google raises alarmist, self-serving criticism to any legislative proposal to deter or thwart rampant copyright infringement.”
This is an obvious reference to the Stop Online Piracy Act and legislation like it, which is indeed opposed by Google and most major Web companies, not to mention a growing contingent of the Web’s most active and passionate users.
Of course, the opposition to SOPA has little to do with simply not wanting to “stop online privacy” but rather focuses on the broad freedom it gives authorities to shut down websites and the threat it poses to the kind of innovation and creativity that has built the Web we know and love today.