Analysis

IFPI and RIAA double-team Google over piratical search-engine links


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GoogleA milestone of sorts for Google this week, albeit one that it’s receiving criticism rather than congratulations for from music rightsholders. The music industry has now sent more than 100m takedown requests to Google for URLs listed in its search engine.

In a co-ordinated offensive, the bosses of global body the IFPI and US organisation the RIAA have both published their views on why Google should be doing more in response. The arguments may be well-worn, but Frances Moore and Cary Sherman are nevertheless pressing for more action.

“Google, with its market capitalisation of more than US$370 billion, is directing internet users to illegal sources of music,” wrote Frances Moore from the IFPI in a screed outlining five steps Google should take.

They include following through on its promise to downgrade piracy sites; making sure songs that are taken down stay down, rather than being “replaced two seconds later”; implement a system to differentiate “authorised” music sites, for example with an icon next to search results; ensure Google’s auto-complete function doesn’t direct people to pirate sites; and… well, the fifth step is the same as the first: “make sure your stated policy on repeat offenders has teeth”.

The RIAA’s Sherman cites the same five steps and reasoning for change, noting that the 100m infringing URLs not only denied creators “the opportunity to earn any royalties, revenues or sales”, but also hurt legal services: “100 million times that innovative tech companies – like Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, Deezer, Vevo, and dozens more – didn’t benefit from a sale or a stream”.

Sherman says that if Google implements the five steps, “none would interfere with the user experience that fans of Google have come to expect. It would signal a new day and unprecedented collaboration between one of the world’s leading technology companies and the global music business”.

Critics are criticising – “He seems to think he can build a better search engine than Google, so why not have the RIAA build its own search engine and go compete?” Techdirt’s Mike Masnick writes about Sherman’s piece – but Google does have a case to answer over its mixed messages.

It promised to downgrade sites generating high numbers of legitimate takedown notices (that’s what spurred the acceleration in such notices that’s brought us to 100m in two years) but hasn’t shown evidence of following through on it.

As the Rap Genius farrago over Christmas showed, punishment can be swift and severe for sites that flout Google’s policies on search engine optimisation. Piracy remains a greyer area, and a hugely contentious one.

Stuart Dredge

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