Mullets, Platform Shoes, Mack Daddies and Public Knowledge

Written by Chris Castle

“[W]hen it comes to the internet, there’s always someone in the middle, especially when it comes to handling the money.” Wired Magazine

Call me cynical, but I always keep an eye on Friday afternoon press releases–Friday afternoons are the great graveyard of bad news.

Google announced on August 10 (Friday) that they are doing something I understand they have been doing increasingly over the last few months: Pushing sites down in search results if Google gets a lot of takedown notices for those sites.  (This is a version of what Google promised to content licensors for Google Video–and of course no one believed them like you don’t believe a street drunk that they’re really going to buy food with your $5.)

Remember–Google has announced in its rather untransparent Transparency Report that it gets millions–millions–of takedown notices annually.  A Google lobbyist told the House Judiciary Committee that Google had “processed” five million DMCA notices as of November 2011 and had “processed” over three million in 2010.  (As usual, Google doesn’t use a good verb like “received” instead of the ambiguous “processed”.)

That five million number seems to have taken a big jump, and I doubt it suddenly happened in the last 10 months.  According to the Wall Street Journal, “The company on Friday said it is now receiving more than a million copyright notices related to its search engine per week.”  (When exactly is “now”? Before or after Google’s testimony to the Congress?)

That is on track for over 50 million notices a year for search alone.

Understand this–it is highly likely that every notice Google received was for a link on a page for which Google served–or profited from–at least one ad.  It’s also likely that those ads were from brands to which Google had promised that it would not serve ads on sites with infringing content.  And guess what happens when Google charges an advertiser for serving an ad in violation of its contract with an advertiser.

It’s called a rebate.

If even half of the notices for which Google has received a DMCA notice–bearing in mind that is a US-based remedy–also have advertising served by Google, then Google may well be on the hook for rebates for millions upon millions of ads for years and years and years.  You would never have thought about this rebate exposure if you relied on Google’s investor disclosures.  If Google stockholders want to blame anyone, they should take a close look at whoever did the legal analysis on setting up the Google advertising platform in the first place.  (Hint: He now works at Spotify.)

I would suggest that what is happening is the beginning of something along the lines of the market solution I have advocated  for a long time–a site-based rating system based on the raw number of DMCA notices received.  This would be along the lines of the restaurant rating system that LA County has in place and would provide a useful feedback to the Congress as well as consumers.  Disclose the information to the market and see what happens.  (Of course, Google doesn’t count DMCA notices sent to YouTube or the Blogger cesspools–but that’s another story addressed by Searchengineland.)

Actually giving effect to such a system would be a step toward ending the advertising supported organized crime that is a large part of the “hybrid economy” on the Internet.  Assuming Google really does what they say they will, this announcement may signal the beginning of the end of this dark fashion.

Not surprisingly, we see this press release from Public Knowledge:

For Immediate Release August 10, 2012

Public Knoweldge [sic] Raises Concerns About Changes to Google Search Algorithm

The following statement may be attributed to John Bergmayer, Senior Staff Attorney:

“It may make good business sense for Google to take extraordinary steps, far beyond what the law requires, to help the media companies it partners with.  That said, its plan to penalize sites that receive DMCA notices raises many questions.

“Sites may not know about, or have the ability to easily challenge, notices sent to Google.  And Google has set up a system that may be abused by bad faith actors who want to suppress their rivals and competitors.  Sites that host a lot of content, or are very popular, may receive a disproportionate number of notices (which are mere accusations of infringement) without being disproportionately infringing.  And user-generated content sites could be harmed by this change, even though the DMCA was structured to protect them.

“Google needs to make sure this change does not harm Internet users or the Internet ecosystem.”

This might be a faintly interesting comment except for one thing: it’s not.  According to Politico’s reporting:

Google said Friday it has received more than 4.3 million copyright removal requests in the past month — about 97 percent of which are valid. Many of the domains that are targets of the most requests are file-sharing and torrent sites. (emphasis mine)

It’s not surprising that Public Knowledge doesn’t get it.  Companies are increasingly aware that their valuable brands are being trashed by association with all manner of sketchy or outright illegal sites with advertising for illegal drugs, human trafficking, financial products and–yes, copyright infringement, but not just copyright infringement.  This at the same time as Google is trying to get into the mainstream entertainment business with Google Fiber and its various other products.

When fashion turns, it leaves all those people with mullets, platform shoes and superwide ties in the lurch.  A closet full of crap and a brain full of mush, weird hair and no dates.

It’s the economics, stupid.  Who in their right mind could imagine that the world could continue to look this way?  Who would really think that many, many artists and media companies have anything but public and private contempt of the first order for Google?  An ontological level of distrust?

And who would really think that the brands that also court relationships with top athletes, musicians, artists and actors would continue to get ripped off by having their advertising served on millions of unsavory sites.  And guess what–when a big brand picks up the phone, they don’t want to hear about how Google is trying to bust another union or wants every link on every page to be adjudicated an infringer before they take action while reposting disabled links in near real time in the cesspool regions of Blogger.  Google’s excuses have nothing to do with the brands.  If brands don’t want their ads on site X, then the ads won’t go on site X.  End of discussion.  And Internet users will be the better for it.  Unless they’re trying to buy a bride or score some oxy.

And I have to believe that Attorney Bergmayer knows this.  He surely can’t be that sheltered.

Time for a haircut and spring cleaning.

Google offers the Mack Daddy special.
(A version of this post previously appeared on the Music Tech Policy blog)

6 thoughts on “Mullets, Platform Shoes, Mack Daddies and Public Knowledge

  1. What Public Knowledge doesn’t get is that the world outside of their little pro-piracy echo chamber wants to find legal stuff on the internet. Google adjusts their algorithm ALL THE TIME, but it never elicits a peep from the EFFs or PKs of the world. They weight the search results to advantage their own products and services. According EFF and PK, it’s cool – just Google asserting its rights as a private company.

    However, now when Google adjusts their algorithm to appropriately uprank lawful websites as alternatives to piracy, EFF and PK have decided that Google’s algorithm is a perfect public good, and should be frozen in amber from this day forward. It’s amazing that anyone would take them seriously anymore – they’re just anti-artist extremists at this point, who continue to provide no solutions as they toss tomatoes at the responsible adults in the room.

  2. Nice article Chris, but I’m having a real hard time swallowing one thing: your suggestion of “a site-based rating system based on the raw number of DMCA notices received”, and your analogy of this to the health-grade letters that restaurants in LA (and now over here in NYC) receive.

    If you see a “C” on a restaurant’s front window, you’ll think twice about eating there because you don’t want to get sick. If I see a “High Number of Takedown Notices” label on a website, what will you do? If you’re like an increasing number of people, you’ll think “Oh goody, free stuff that I am extremely unlikely to get caught taking” or possibly “Oh goody, another opportunity to stick it to the man.” The analogy just plain doesn’t work.

    This is not how you solve these problems. Getting companies like Google to “act ethically” is not part of the picture either. This is, and has always been, all about companies like Google acting in their best business interests. If you condition people to believe that they can get the content they want for free, all the talk about ethics is not going to make a damn bit of difference.

    • We’ll never agree and I will always think you are wrong. Time will tell. I will tell you that your suggestion sounds exactly like everything we’ve heard for 14 years and it hasn’t worked, so move over that time is done.

      • Chris,

        Please explain to me how “my suggestion” (which was what, exactly?) “sounds exactly like everything we’ve heard for 14 years.” I honestly don’t get it.

  3. Not really related to the article, as it concentrates on search… Not sure if anyone keeps track of such things but I’ve been noticing more and more full length albums are showing up on Youtube.

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