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News from the Goolag: As Evil as They Wanna Be: Does Google Adsense drive piracy?

July 26, 2010

It’s hard to understand why anyone who represents songwriters or artists would do business with Google while Google is simultaneously selling advertising on pirate websites that are selling illegal copies of the very works that Google wants to license for its “legit” business, such as the Google Music service (whatever new levels of innovative thievery that thing holds).

The producer of the indie film “And Then Came Lola” offers the latest proof that the Google ethic—if you can call it that–is less “Don’t Be Evil” and more that they are happy to respect other people’s rights when the other people get a final nonappealable judgment on a packet by packet basis. Essentially day and date with the film’s release the producer has been locked in a struggle to take advantage of Google’s wonderful “notice and shakedown” regime that so enamored Judge Stanton (and his clerks) in the YouTube case. Because Google twists the “red flag” into knots upon knots upon knots.

DMCA Hell” is the title of the wonderfully ironic short video that Ellen Seidler made about the hours and hours per day that she has to engage in the DMCA notice and takedown process—all because Google wants to sell advertising on illegal sites and because Google wants to make any attempt to stop them from doing it as burdensome as possible. Why? Because theft is built into the core business model of a public company.

Unfortunately, there is nothing new in this. In a 2006 case involving pirate movie sites, Google acknowledged that that Google offered the purveyors of pirate movies credit to buy advertising from Google for their illegal activities. Not only did Google find these young criminals to be creditworthy, Google actually supplied them with keywords, including terms such as “bootleg movie download,” “pirated,” and “download harry potter movie,” to boost—so to speak–traffic on the illegal website and increase piracy. According to the Wall Street Journal’s coverage of the case, of the $1.1 million in revenue the two sites — EasyDownloadCenter.com and TheDownloadPlace.com — generated from 2003 to 2005, $809,000 was paid to Google for advertising. And nothing was paid to the people who made the movies, worked on the movies, distributed the movies in legitimate channels.

My, my. Times have not changed much have they? Except that today these sites would be seized by the Department of Homeland Security, their advertising accounts impounded and their owners hunted.

Here’s the scam: the sites within the reach of John Moreton don’t host any content—the content is stored usually in cyberlockers in the really special countries. Usually in China or Russia. The US sites sell advertising—predominantly served by Google. And how do these people find each other? Google sells the keywords. Imagine the convenience! And to think that in the pre-Internet era these people only found each other in prison.

Understand—and don’t get sidetracked when the Google PR machine kicks in—this is not about selling advertising for illicit products. It is about a public company selling advertising for legal products on sites that it knows sell illicit products. And attract millions of eyeballs because of it.

As the Wall Street Journal noted in 2007, “Instead of relying on spam emails to drive traffic to [EasyDownloadCenter.com and TheDownloadPlace.com], the[sites] decided to rely on Google advertising. The high volume of traffic on EasyDownloadCenter.com and TheDownloadCenter.com caught Google’s attention, according to people familiar with the two men’s statements. To help stoke the traffic further, Google assigned the sites account representatives who suggested keywords they could bid on. Google also offered [the sites] credit so they didn’t have to use their credit cards to pay Google’s fees.”

Not much has changed. As Ellen Seidler demonstrates, Google is still profiting from selling advertising on illegal websites and they are now using the DMCA to wear down a new category of artist—one who is being robbed blind to Google’s benefit. A whole new definition of bullying beneath even the greatest bullies of history. Let’s see if Judge Stanton can find that in the legislative history.

So it’s hard to understand why any creator would do business with these people as long as they are promoting theft. No matter how desperate artists get, they should not be tempted by a payment from Google of money that was stolen from their fellow artists—or from them. Particularly not at the hands of “music lawyers” who take the king’s shilling.

It’s also hard to understand why the stock exchanges allow Google to trade when significant amounts of money from ill gotten gains are being reported on Google’s balance sheet as legal revenue. Congressman Brad Sherman expressed concern on a very similar issue at last week’s Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on intellectual property.

So watch Ellen’s “DMCA Hell” video and think about how it applies to you. Or to paraphrase Chico Marx: Who are you going to believe, Google or your own eyes?

See also: PopUp Pirates Ellen’s web diary of trying to protect her film from piracy and her DMCA notice saga, including her efforts at getting Google to acknowledge it was selling ads on pirate websites

See also: NPR story on Ellen’s experiences with piracy

See also: Backstage Magazine article on Ellen’s experiences with piracy

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