Google Called Out for “Greenwashing” Piracy

There’s little doubt that Google very carefully tracks the content flowing across its websites, as evidenced by the millions of takedown requests issued in recent years—558 million in 2015 alone, according to Music Business Worldwide. In its recent report, Google plainly states  it continues to invest “significant resources in the development of tools to report and manage copyrighted content, and we work with other industry leaders to set the standard for how tech companies fight piracy.”

YouTube has generated more than $2 billion for partners since its launch and has paid more than $3 billion to the music industry, the report notes, and has invested more than $60 million in Content ID, “a proprietary system of copyright and content management tools to give rightsholders control of their content on YouTube.”

Google Play, the company’s music streaming and cloud service, has more than a billion users in 190 countries and paid more than $7 billion to developers between February 2014 and February 2015. The report outlines elaborate and deliberate steps the company initiated to protect content creators of all stripes and the lengths to which Google will go to ensure creators are paid for their work.

That the report was released in the middle of an international groundswell of complaints from artists for failing to pay musicians enough for their work is probably just a coincidence. The report’s release did bring about a holiday of sorts, last week’s “F*#K Google Day.”

The 62-page report gets rather granular and is worth a read, but many music industry groups are less than impressed with the efforts, suggesting Google’s intentions be taken with a grain of salt.

“This report looks a lot like ‘greenwash,’” says Geoff Taylor, chief executive of BPI and the BRIT Awards. “Although we welcome the measures Google has taken so far, it is still one of the key enables of piracy on the planet. Google has the resources and the tech expertise to do much more to get rid of the illegal content on its services.”

If Google’s end goal really was to put money in the pockets of all every single person responsible for the creative works available across its many platforms and services, “it will now commit to implement new measures that will effectively protect artists from sites and apps that rip off their work, and help more fans get their content legally,” he says.

The British music promoter spells out his criticisms here, including that the Content ID system can be worked around rather easily and the company hasn’t removed videos posted on YouTube showing how to circumvent it; the oft-repeated lament that Google only pays artist a fraction as much as other streaming services for plays on YouTube; the ease with which users can find piracy websites through a simple Google search, and the ability of users to participate in “stream ripping,” or converting YouTube videos into music downloads.

Taylor has been a vocal skeptic of Google’s practices for some time, especially when it comes to takedown notices, legal documents sent to users who post content – or videos featuring content—created by someone else. The best example of this is the “Dancing Baby” case, in which a mom posted a 29-second video of her baby dancing to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” and was informed she was in violation of his copyright protection.

In March, when Google issued its 2 billionth notice, BPI issued a statement saying Google needed to do more to prevent piracy, including steps to make sure the video in question stayed inaccessible permanently.

Taylor isn’t alone in his frustration. In a separate statement, Frances Moore, CEO of the Switzerland-based international organization representing the music industry IFPI, says the music market continues to be “distorted by unfair competition from unlicensed services.”

“Google has the capability and resources to do much more to tackle the vast amount of music that is being made available and accessed without permission on its platforms,” Moore says. Content ID “fails to identify 20-40%” of recordings posted without permission, rendering the tool “ineffective.”

Of course, the music industry has been scrambling for some time to find its footing in the internet age. As Tech Dirt writer Mike Masnick points out, Google isn’t perfect, but “the company goes way too far in trying to appease an industry that is placing a ton of misplaced blame on Google for its own failures to innovate and change with the times. But because so many people seem to be accepting the myths of the legacy industries, now Google feels the need to go even further and release these ‘guys, we’re doing away more than any law has ever required’ reports.”

No matter the lengths to which Google goes in the name of protecting artists, “it’s never enough when you can blame the more successful company for your own failures,” Masnick says.

Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

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