July 13, 2016:‘How Google Fights Piracy’ report makes YouTube, search defence

Google has published a new version of its How Google Fights Piracy report.

It’s the third revision in four years for the report, which makes the company’s defence against creative industry attacks on its approach to copyright, from user-generated content on YouTube to piracy sites’ ranking on Google’s search engine.

This year’s report, like its predecessors in September 2013 and October 2014, sets out Google’s case for being seen as a friend to rightsholders rather than a foe.

“Today, Google’s services provide more content for users, generate more revenue for rightsholders, and do more to battle copyright-infringing activity than ever before,” claims its introduction.

“Google takes the challenge of online piracy seriously – we continue 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.”

In truth, the Google/YouTube vs Rightsholders debate is so polarised already – particularly within the music industry – that it’s hard to see the report changing anyone’s views, whichever side of the debate they’re on.

Some of the figures will already be familiar to Music Ally readers, such as YouTube having paid more than $3bn to the music industry, and having spent $60m developing its Content ID copyright-management system.

Also the claim that music rightsholders choose to monetise more than 95% of their Content ID claims rather than get the videos removed from YouTube, and the stat that “the music industry generates 50% of its revenue on YouTube from monetising fan uploads”.

These stats were revealed earlier this year as YouTube fought back against criticism from rightsholders.

Some new figures: there are now more than 50m active reference files in the Content ID database, and more than 8,000 partners using the system – “a 38% increase since our 2014 report”. Meanwhile, Google says that 98% of copyright issues on YouTube are resolved using Content ID, with 90% resulting in monetisation for the original rightsholder.

Musicians like Lindsey Stirling, Tyler Ward and Hannah Trigwell are spotlighted in the report as examples of artists building their audiences on YouTube initially, and using that to generate recording and touring incomes.

Music is mentioned regularly in the report, as you’d expect. “In the past year alone, the music industry has experienced a 6.9% growth in sales and has pulled in over $25 billion in revenue,” claims Google, pointedly citing figures from a study by Music Business Worldwide and Spotify’s Will Page that include recorded music AND publishing income, rather than the IFPI’s $15bn figure for recorded music.

(One problem: the MBW/Page study was for 2014, not 2015. But the point – that the full gamut of ‘copyright’ revenues in music is the best metric to assess growth – is arguably a fair one.)

The report also cites “Spotify’s success in Sweden, Australia, and the Netherlands” at sparking a fall in piracy rates to bolster its claim that “the wide availability of convenient, legitimate forms of content consumption is one of the most effective weapons” against infringement.

One of the key lines of argument for music rightsholders against YouTube’s safe-harbour status is that it is hampering the growth of rivals like Spotify, so citing its success in the report is pretty interesting.

That said, YouTube is also positioned as a piracy-beater: “Each time a music fan chooses YouTube over an unauthorised source for music, it’s a victory against piracy,” claims the report.

Google’s report also reaffirms its defence against claims that its search engine fuels online piracy – and renews its own criticism of music rightsholders over their line of attack.

The key sentence is Google’s promise of “clean results for media-related queries users actually type” – the nub of this argument being the word ‘actually’.

Google maintains that when music rightsholders talk about pirate sites ranking highly in its search results, they’re using specific search queries that aren’t actually that popular with web users.

“For example, users searched for the query ‘Katy Perry’ 14,812 times more often than the query ‘Katy Perry free download’,” claims the report, which describes the latter as an example of a “long-tail” query which can be tackled by DMCA takedown notices.

Later in the report, similar comparisons are made for ‘Taylor Swift’ vs ‘Taylor Swift download’; and for ‘PSY Gangnam Style’ and ‘PSY Gangnam Style download’ as well as for various film queries.

(This is where the views are polarised again: rightsholders argue that battering Google with takedowns is onerous and expensive, while Google says its “state-of-the-art tools” help rightsholders file the notices “efficiently at high volumes”. The fact that it received requests to remove over 558m web pages in 2015 alone is used by both sides to ‘prove’ their point.)

In the report, Google also mentions its demotion process for sits that receive a large number of valid takedowns, and hints that rightsholders and digital music services could be doing more to use SEO techniques “to get their offerings into search results for ‘long-tail’ queries where they may not be appearing today.”

There are some new stats on the demotion score. “In May 2016, we found that demoted sites lost an average of 89% of their traffic from Google Search,” claims Google, although it holds firm to its policy of not removing entire sites from its search rankings – “Even for the websites for which we have received the largest numbers of notices, the number of “noticed” pages is often only a tiny fraction of the total number of pages on the site. It would be inappropriate to remove entire sites under these circumstances,” is its argument.

Google’s report also provides an update on its attempts to keep its advertising network away from piracy sites, citing its “ongoing discussions” with the Trustworthy Accountability Group’s Antipiracy Working Group on this front.

“Since 2012, we have blacklisted more than 91,000 pages from our AdSense program for violations of our copyright policy, the vast majority of which were caught by our own proactive screening processes,” explains the report. “We have also terminated over 11,000 AdSense accounts for copyright violations in that time.”

In the 2013 report, Google said it had “disabled ad serving to 46,000 sites” in 2012 for violating its copyright policy. In the 2014 report, the number of ejected sites had grown to “more than 73,000” in the previous year.

If “pages” in the 2016 report corresponds to “sites” in its predecessors, then Google has disabled ad serving to 18,000 more sites in the last 21 months.

Other points of interest from the report: Google continues to point to another side to the copyright debate: invalid takedown notices and Content ID claims filed by rightsholders and other entities.

“Unfortunately, fabricated copyright infringement allegations can be used as a pretext for censorship and to hinder competition,” claims the report. “Google is committed to ensuring that it detects and rejects bogus infringement allegations, such as removals for political or competitive reasons, even as it battles online piracy.”

YouTube is one of the main battlegrounds for this: it recently changed the way it deals with Content ID disputes, keeping ad revenues aside during disputes so that video creators will not lose out if they prevail. YouTube has also promised to provide legal support to some videos that it believes “represent clear fair use” but which have been hit by DMCA takedowns.

There is a lot more in the report. Yes, it’s obviously all pro-Google as the company puts its case, but we think it’s important that the company’s critics read the report, digest its claims, and then make their responses.

We are looking forward to hearing what everybody from the IFPI, BPI and RIAA make of the report through to artist-rights advocates like The Trichordist and Music Technology Policy. We’ll be covering all opinions in the coming days and weeks.

Update: The BPI and IFPI have been first with their responses.

(One final note: safe harbour is only mentioned once, in a footnote explaining what the DMCA legislation is in the US. In this report, at least, Google is not directly addressing the music rightsholders’ arguments that YouTube should not be protected by such safe harbours, although of course the thrust of the overall report is that Google and YouTube are abiding by their current requirements under this legislation.)

Stuart Dredge
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