In a move perhaps connected to Google’s prosecution and payment of $500 million forfeiture for promoting the sale of illegal drugs, The Guardian reports that the UK Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt will announce today that the Cameron Government expects “Google and other companies to take action against rogue sites, but could introduce new legislation in the forthcoming communications bill.” (See “Google Faces Pressure to Block File Sharing Sites.” Read a copy of Google’s plea agreement in their prosecution for promoting the sale of illegal drugs.)
Just to put this in a little context, Google’s global head of communications and public policy is married to Steve Hilton, a political advisor to Prime Minister David Cameron. As you would expect, this relationship has come under scrutiny in the UK press, which cannot have been helped by the recent phone hacking scandal. The closeness of Google and Prime Minister Cameron has also been criticized in the Hargreaves Review debacle, so for the Cameron Government to take a position not only pro-artist but also one that will be perceived as anti-Google is really quite remarkable for those of us who read the tea leaves from the sidelines. (Ed Vaizey, a Minister with responsibilities for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries, has been very supportive of the UK arts community, so what is interesting about this is the combo of opposing Google while supporting the creative community.)
Given that context, Jeremy Hunt is to be commended even more for his principled stand against all those in the wheel and spoke structure that Ellen Seidler calls “Popup Pirates“, the unholy alliance of adserving companies (of which Google is by far the largest), linking sites, cyber lockers, credit card companies and others in the chain. There has been remarkable success in the U.S. with the Protect IP Act in getting companies to come to the table once they have been informed of the problem–except for Google, which is still clinging to the hope that they can fool us all once again behind their substantially tarnished “hear no evil,” “see no evil”, “do no evil” mantra.
The Guardian reports that this isn’t going anywhere with the Cameron Government, as “[g]overnment ministers see Google as one of the key players in the fight against online piracy, chiefly because it is a portal to the web for nine out of 10 UK search engine users….Hunt is believed to be in favour of an independent cross-industry body…that will identify sites used for illicit filesharing and push for them to be blocked. The use of [this] model as a way to combat piracy was first raised as part of communications minister Ed Vaizey’s industry round tables on web blocking at the end of last year. ‘We do not allow certain products to be sold in the shops on the high street, nor do we allow shops to be set up purely to sell counterfeited products. Neither should we tolerate it online,’ Hunt is expected to say.”
Minister Hunt is quoted in the Financial Times as saying “The government has no business protecting old models or helping industries that have failed to move with the times. But those new models will never be able to prosper if they have to compete with free alternatives based on the illegal distribution of copyrighted material.”
We commend Messrs Hunt and Vaizey for clearly identifying a legitimate role for government in protecting the human rights of artists online, taking the steps to do something about it, and having the courage to challenge evil when they see it. Not just challenge it, but also shake Old Nick by the tail.
Music Week has the full text of Minister Hunt’s speech.
Google’s response? According to the Financial Times “‘Google has industry-leading measures to fight online piracy,” it said. “We work hand in hand with copyright owners to remove infringing material from search results. Without a court order, any copyright owner can already use our removals process to inform us of copyright infringing content and have it removed from Google Search. We recently announced a series of measures that make this process even easier, bringing our removal time down to an average of four hours.’”
Google’s “measures” are clearly designed to try to fake out the creative community, lawmakers and judges (see The Complete Checklist on Google’s Non-Antipiracy Antipiracy Policies).
Another reference point for Google’s intentions is found in a statement by Google’s Executive Chairman (and who was CEO during the time that the U.S. Government successfully ran seven sting operations against Google for promoting the sale of illegal drugs): “‘If there is a law that requires DNSs [domain name systems, the protocol that allows users to connect to websites] to do X and it’s passed by both houses of congress and signed by the president of the United States and we disagree with it then we would still fight it,’ he added. ‘If it’s a request the answer is we wouldn’t do it, if it’s a discussion we wouldn’t do it.'”
But the quotation that is perhaps most revealing is this one, which Schmidt made at a conference at which both Minister Hunt and Schmidt were speakers: “”We would prefer to try to use best practices within the industry instead of regulations. If there is legislation it should be based on the best practices of the leading companies.'”
In other words: Google does what Google wants to do and it makes the law in its own image, whether it’s stealing copyrights or selling drugs.