As a giant of the online world, Google has faced its share of heat for allegedly promoting piracy. Even as it's fought against the RIAA and MPAA in Congress, though, it's attempted to reconcile with the film and music industries — especially as it tries to turn services like YouTube and Google Play Music into content juggernauts. Its latest move works on both fronts: creating an anti-piracy report that doubles as a promotional brochure for artists. "How Google Fights Piracy" is meant as an answer to things like RIAA anti-piracy reports, which have slammed the company for failing to demote "serial infringers" in its search results. But amid the takedown statistics and policy explanations, Google wants everyone to know just how awesome it is for artists.
"YouTube has been a transformational force in the world of creative expression, a global video platform at a scale never imagined," Google says. Its Content ID program, which searches for copyrighted songs in YouTube and pays a license fee to creators, is perhaps the epitome of its judo strategy to turn piracy — which has long caused Hollywood and the music industry to fear the web — into a strength. "It's not just an anti-piracy solution, but also a new business model for copyright owners and YouTube alike."
"It's not just an anti-piracy solution, but also a new business model."
As such, it's downplayed one of the few areas that content creators can't directly make money: Google Search. Search is a particularly sore point for people on both sides of the anti-piracy debate. For those in favor of more intervention, it's a giant directory of free stuff, abetted by Google's very algorithmic structure. By aggregating pages from torrent or other download sites, it lets would-be pirates find what they're looking for; by taking autocomplete cues from users, it inadvertently suggests things like "free mp3" or "torrent" after song and movie names, though Google has taken steps to change both those things. For people who believe the goals of anti-piracy advocates undermine an open internet, Google is kowtowing to content creators by downranking some search results and accepting ridiculous automated takedown requests like a plea from Microsoft to remove links to its own site.
In response, Google echoes reports that say search results aren't a significant driver of piracy. "There are more than 60 trillion addresses on the web," it says. "Only an infinitesimal portion of those trillions infringe copyright." It also gently chides copyright holders for placing the onus on it to find their content. "Nearly every paragraph of text, photograph, video, sound recording, or piece of software is potentially protected by copyright law," it complains. Google also devotes an entire page to "the reality" of search and piracy, including a chart that shows how relatively uncommon piracy-related searches are in the scheme of things.
Google is taking the tack that it (and virtually every other online company) has for years, pointing out the silver lining of a technological shift that some music and movie makers see as a devastating blow to their work. Granted, these efforts can backfire; artists have complained that Spotify and other streaming music services aren't much of a step up from outright piracy. So far, though, Google's PR campaign could be paying off in music and movies — though it has yet to crack the perception that Android is a platform for pirates.
Update: The MPAA has responded with a statement, praising Google for creating a platform for content but once again complaining that it's not going far enough. "We absolutely agree that the promotion of high-quality, legitimate platforms where audiences can watch their favorite TV shows and movies is critical," says a spokesperson. "What's missing from this report, though, is an acknowledgment of Google's responsibility as the major gatekeeper of the internet. No one is suggesting that Google alone can stop piracy, but Google can and should play a more constructive role in directing consumers to legal content."