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Google: the pirates' best friend?

Posted on 13 Apr 2012 at 14:13

Google stands accused of aiding and abetting piracy. Could it do more to prevent copyright theft? Should it? Nicole Kobie investigates

Try this: type your favourite artist and song into Google, along with the word “download”. Odds are – depending, of course, on your musical tastes – that the bulk of the first-page results will feature links to “free” MP3 sites, but few legal places to buy the track.

Not surprisingly, rights-holders take issue with this. So too does the Government, which is asking the search giant to proactively block links to such sites. A solution is being discussed by culture minister Ed Vaizey, rights lobbyists such as the BPI, and search engines including Google.

But can – and should – Google take action, or is it already doing enough with its current takedown system?

Murdoch’s fury

Rupert Murdoch, for one, thinks the world’s leading search engine isn’t doing nearly enough. The News Corp boss took to Twitter in January to launch a thunderous broadside against Google and it’s alleged cohorts in the Obama administration.

Piracy leader is Google who streams movies free, sells advts around them. No wonder it’s pouring millions into lobbying

“So Obama has thrown in his lot with Silicon Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery,” Murdoch tweeted, adding: “Piracy leader is Google who streams movies free, sells advts around them. No wonder [it’s] pouring millions into lobbying.”

Murdoch, whose company owns movie studio 20th Century Fox and many other media outlets, provided an example of Google’s alleged transgressions. “Just been to Google search for Mission: Impossible. Wow, several sites offering free links. I rest my case.”

It’s a case that’s been made many times before. Music bosses have often argued that Google favours sites offering illegitimate downloads over officially sanctioned stores, making it easier for casual surfers to “do the wrong thing” rather than the “right”.

Movie studios, games companies and ebook publishers have all lodged similar gripes. Is Google deaf to their complaints?

DMCA takedowns

As a US company, Google is already subject to DMCA takedown orders – the shorthand for the process by which sites are blocked under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

A rights-holder can ask Google in writing, or via a form on its website, to stop linking to pages offering infringing versions of their content.

The owner of the page can file a counter-order to prevent the block or have a link reinstated after the fact, if it turns out the claim is incorrect. Google and other sites, including Twitter and Microsoft’s Bing, are given safe harbour by US authorities if they abide by such orders, protecting them from further court action.

Google filed a document with the New Zealand Government in 2009 claiming that 57% of takedown notices were actually sent by rival businesses

It all sounds perfectly civilised, but the system has its detractors. Rights-holders want more power – the controversial US bills SOPA and Protect IP initially threatened to remove the safe harbour clause – while on the other side digital rights activists argue such link removal is censorship.

Google points out that many of the notices aren’t valid; the search giant filed a document with the New Zealand Government in 2009 claiming that 57% of takedown notices were actually sent by rival businesses, while 37% weren’t valid under takedown legislation.

For transparency, Google notes in its search results when a site has been removed under the DMCA, and links to, where it publishes all takedown requests.

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User comments

Much griping over nothing

Murdoch complaining of losing his monopoly again.
Google is search engine not a provider of music or films it is up to the user to decide which links to click on. So if he clicks on illegal sites its the user that's at fault not Google.

By curiousclive on 14 Apr 2012

Small, and baseless rant.. Sorry

OMG this article annoyed me so much... I feel a rant coming on

Oh and the rights groups don't poor millions into lobbying

Google provides a search of the Internet. Free from any bodies tastes or preferences. Google tries to give you the best results for what you are looking for. It is not its fault that there are sites that have illegal material. The e-crime unit of the police should deal with this not google. If you see a crime, report to police. let's say a theft in a store happened, you don't got to the manager of the store and say why are you allowing this in your store. 

God the rights holders are such d***heads. They are still earning millions. They just don't know what to do with it. So they waste it on trying to get even more money. 
This take down service would be mis used a lot. And probably already has been. 

You say dodgy site, but google does not sit there rampaging through every site for every keyword. They simply have a system. Come on pcpro you know this, you did an article on how google works in your magazines, perhaps it would help if some other people read it too.

Google is not the law. Police is not going to go to your house and say why did you not stop those robbers. No they will not do that. They will investigate. Is the police so undertrained and useless in these technology things. They should be bringing down the people who put up the sites. Not block them in google. 

There should be a world wide agreement regarding the website owner disclosure, so that lets say if your website hosts large amount of illegal material, you will be sought after by the law.

There are a lot of SEO optimisation companies out there, that the music industry can use in order to increase visibility. They are able to advertise with google. Simple. 

Consumers confused. Of course yes. I would lead you to a nice meme here.
Really. People would go to sites and see a torrent. Download it. Oh wait you need to set up utorrent or equivalent. Doubt this is done by accident. 

And so we come to the end of my little rant. Let me get a few things straight. The right holders are fighting a losing battle. 
Nobody ever will switch to other search engines.
Music industry must learn, artists are the main component of music, not the company. You just steal money from the artists. That's why everybody hates you and nobody cares
Movie industry. The only thing. I would say now is make more downloadable content in hd. For let's say cinema prices. And I would say you should be Fine.
But you are also fighting a losing fight, free + Almost no threat of police finding you. It is. Crime of opportunity. You know you will get away it's it. 
And as times go forward. People will switch to encrypted methods of downloading. And that's it. Nobody will ever get caught this way...

By mobilegnet on 14 Apr 2012

mobilegent's rant

mobilegent: I totally agree with you regarding the movie industry - if they focussed on getting HD movies online and downloadable for cinema type prices (like netflix and lovefilm have begun doing), I think the volume of movie piracy would drop like a stone. Just like anything - if you price it out of the market, nobody buys and people will find cheaper (free) alternatives, but if it is affordable, people won't be arsed to go looking for crappy torrent files that may or may not work...

By spideryman on 15 Apr 2012


are the rights holders going to find the pirates, if they take Google down or stop them reporting links to pirate content?

Oh, I forgot, they aren't interested, Google has lots of money and a registered address, if they go after the pirates, they will shut up shop and move, before the lawyers turn up for a big pay-day, Google can't do that, so they are a big fast scapegoat that the industry can feast off of and prolong their demise, as opposed to actually doing something about solving the problem.

By big_D on 16 Apr 2012

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