We don’t make a habit of liveblogging current affairs TV shows, but tonight is an exception.
Newsnight is broadcasting a report by the BBC’s technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones on music piracy, and it promises to fan the flames of the debate around Google’s role.
Cellan-Jones blogged earlier today about the report, which will focus on the “battle between one of the world’s most powerful companies, Google, and the trade body representing British music labels, the BPI”. He continued:
“I suspect that many of you reading this will come down on Google’s side. After all the music industry is hugely powerful, and has been ripping off consumers for years, right? Who are they to take the moral high ground? But don’t forget that Google now earns about three times as much in the UK as the entire music industry…”
What follows is our as-live report on the show, and our reaction to what’s said.
“It might seem like an industry in rude health, but UK Music feels it’s under siege,” runs the intro, as Adele sings. Cellan-Jones then types in ‘Adele MP3’ to Google, and suggests you’ll struggle to find legitimate results.
However, the show quickly switches to Alastair Nicholson from Son Records, a small independent label, which released an album by one of its artists, and found it all over piracy sites the very next day. The emphasis being on the fact that this isn’t just a problem for major labels and artists.
“Once we’ve told Google 100,000 times that a particular site is illegal, we don’t think that site should be coming above iTunes and Spotify in the results,” says Geoff Taylor. “We would say that once they have knowledge that a site is illegal… that site should be blocked. But they still list that site in their search results.”
Onto Google’s UK policy manager Theo Bertram, who says it’s not Google’s role to judge what’s legal and illegal on the web. “What our research shows: however much you do on filtering and blocking, what would be much more effective is to go after the money…” Which ties back into recent Google-sponsored research about chasing the advertising and payment companies that provide revenues for infringing sites.
Back to Taylor: “They do have enormous influence with government…” The tricky argument that the music industry is being out-lobbied by Google – tricky, because the BPI was criticised heavily at the time the UK’s Digital Economy Act was passed for its own lobbying efforts in the run-up to that legislation. “The creative industries do deserve to be listened to as well,” says Taylor.
And artists? Tim Burgess of the Charlatans pops up giving his views about seeing his music available on pirate sites. “I should feel terrible, right? But, I can’t really lie and say… I don’t really feel that bad about it…” Er…
Back to Bertram: “I’m happy to say Google doesn’t support piracy, and we do support freedom of expression… I think you can be pro freedom of expression, and anti piracy.” And then the report finishes with Nicholson again and a downbeat view about the future viability of his business if piracy isn’t reduced – with Google needing to take a more “moral viewpoint” on fighting it.
Few of these arguments will be new to Music Ally readers – these arguments have been running for some time. What’s dispiriting is the idea that Cellan-Jones puts in his blog post: that people have to choose a side in this Google v music battle. It’s such a polarised debate, but encouraging people to be on Team Google or Team BPI is hardly the best route to compromise.
(Not a criticism of Cellan-Jones or his report, which did a very good job of showing this situation.)
Some of the examples used raise questions, though. How many people are searching for, say, ‘Adele MP3’, rather than just ‘Adele’ or ‘Adele Rolling In The Deep’ – the latter two bring up many more legal results.
The debate (and the lobbying) will continue to run, though.