The Selfish Ledger is a troubling, near-future concept video produced within Google in late 2016, which we revealed on this website a week ago. It uses plenty of stock footage to illustrate its premise, which the BBC now reports wasn’t properly licensed by Google. British filmmaker Philip Bloom expressed his dismay to the BBC at seeing his footage used in The Selfish Ledger without any license or authorization from him. He reports that Google lifted 73 seconds from seven of his videos, and when he got in touch with the company he was offered no compensation. Google, in response, indicates that the video was only for internal use, which Bloom counters by noting that many other companies have previously licensed his work for internal use only:
“A fair amount of my footage has been licensed for internal use only, so to hear Google not state that they will compensate me for its use is very surprising. Google via their YouTube platform are pretty strict when it comes to copyright breaches, so this is rather hypocritical of them and most certainly does not set a good example.”
Bloom is correct. The Selfish Ledger film may have been intended only for internal consumption within Google, but that doesn’t excuse the company from properly licensing the parts of it that are someone else’s creative work. Google should know this. Having painted itself as a staunch defender of creators’ copyright on YouTube, Google is now exposing its internal hypocrisy and disregard for that right. Copyright is a thing Google enforces against others, apparently, but not itself.
Painting dystopia with someone else’s brushes
For its part, Google has told the BBC that the author of the video “had now been reminded about [the company’s] strict copyright rules.” The executive in question is Nick Foster, head of design at X, Google’s experimental research lab that is intended to explore potential future scenarios through speculative design concepts such as The Selfish Ledger. The thing is, Foster himself acknowledges in a mid-2016 video posted to his own YouTube channel just how hard it is to procure royalty-free music to put to his videos. He even notes how aggressive YouTube is in flagging potential copyright infringements with music.
What makes the irony of this situation especially palpable is that at least three of Philip Bloom’s original videos are already on YouTube, one of which was created to help fund homeless charities. Google’s refusal to at least compensate him retroactively for the unlicensed use is a perplexing decision for a company that churns out billions of dollars of ad revenue each quarter, bolstered in no small part by YouTube’s popularity. Bloom has indicated he intends to pursue the matter further.