Google’s Charm Offensive Comes to Nashville Behind YouTube Front: But Where is the Straight Count?

It’s really important that we protect the rights of really good looking people in this society,”

Attorney Andrew Bridges of Fenwick & West (frequently representing Google) quoted at Beautiful Person Derek Khanna’s SXSW Panel


First They Send the Missionaries

If you read much about the expansion of the British Empire, you will begin to get the idea: First they send the missionaries.

This is the thought that went through my mind a few years ago when I was on a panel with Alex Curtis from Public Knowledge at the Leadership Music Digital Summit in Nashville.  (MTP readers will remember this is the panel at which we formed the rule–don’t participate in panels when your fellow panelists are using iPads on the stage.  They may be tweeting questions to a ringer in the audience who then asks questions that the Tweeting Panelist wants to answer.)

That summit was organized by Mark Montgomery who is–surprise surprise–sponsoring the “Google for Creators” effort that is to happen in Nashville on April 18:

On April 18 Google/YouTube is returning to Nashville to hold their first “Google For Creators” workshop. The Internet has opened up opportunities for existing artists and publishers and, at the sametime, leveled the playing field for new creators.
Thus, representatives from Google and YouTube will conduct a series of hands-on workshops to showcase news tools, the best practices for creators on the Internet and forward thinking ideas of the modern music business that are available to all artists.
Attendees will learn powerful tools and techniques that artists can use to digitally create, expose, and promote their work. They will learn how to cultivate and engage audiences in digital media, and most importantly, have successful careers and make money. [We’ll come back to that.]
Top representatives from YouTube and Google will lead the event, which is part of Nashville based FLO{thinkery}’s Unparalleled Thinking Series.
“Artists and entrepreneurs are using the Internet to succeed. Over the last few years, YouTube haslaunched thousands of careers and helped creators reach a huge audience,” says Tim Shey, Director of YouTube’s NextLab. “We are excited to bring our educational program to Nashville and help empower these creators online.”

“Art and technology are forever intertwined going forward,” adds FLO’s Mark Montgomery “and Google is playing a huge part in shaping that interrelationship. There is no better place for them to share that message than in America’s most creative city.”

So who are these missionaries?  Sometimes they are easy to detect like Mr. Curtis who has been in the Public Knowledge orbit (and probably payroll) for a good long time.  MTP readers will recognize Public Knowledge from their prominent mention on the Google Shill List filed by Google with the court it its lawsuit with Oracle (“Google has contributed to Public Knowledge for years before the complaint in the [Oracle case] was filed. Public Knowledge has commented on the case.”)  So who was paying whom is a question only Mr. Curtis can answer if anyone wants to ask him.

The Irony of the Beautiful People

What is ironic about Google’s charm offensive which is offensively charming is how they blithely spin how Google not only screws creators at the macro level by pushing traffic to illegal sites from search, but also from YouTube.  And set aside the piracy, how about drugs and human trafficking?

Google’s beautiful people finally ran into a US Attorney who wouldn’t back down a few years ago.  The result?  A grand jury investigation that demonstrated that Google actively sought to promote the sale of prescription drugs indiscriminantly–which means to kids and addicts–or demonstrated it enough to get Google’s senior executive team to cough up $500,000,000 of the stockholders money to keep them from all being indicted.  This wasn’t a casual event–no litigation event is casual when it comes to Google–this was a long-running grand jury investigation in which Google produced 4,000,000 documents.  It was the result of several sting operations by the Justice Department, the FDA and the IRS.

Google entered into a nonprosecution agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2011 pursuant to which it paid the $500,000,000 forfeiture “in a settlement to avoid prosecution for aiding illegal online pharmaceutical sales….[T]he settlement ‘signals that, where evidence can be developed that a search engine knowingly and actively assisted advertisers to promote improper conduct, the search engine can be held accountable as an accomplice,’ according to Peter Neronha, the lead prosecutor.”  Notwithstanding the stringent terms of the $500,000,000 forfeiture, a recent Google search for “buy oxycontin online no prescription” returns this:

Google oxy

A YouTube search “buy pills online no prescription” returns dozens of videos about how to get illegal drugs–all of which may violate Google’s nonprosecution agreement.  See also the Wall Street Journal, “Con Artist Starred in Sting that Cost Google Millions

When Google’s Eric Schmidt testified before the U.S. Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, Senator Cornyn asked him about some of the terms in the nonprosecution agreement–and Schmidt refused to answer on the advice of counsel.  In other words–Schmidt took the 5th.  Of course, what he was really saying was that he refused to answer on TV on the advice of counsel.  When Senator Cornyn requested written answers later, Schmidt claimed to have been confused by the question.

Maybe he should have watched this YouTube video:

And then there’s the human trafficking…

In 2012 U.S. Representatives Carolyn Maloney and Marsha Blackburn wrote to Google CEO Larry Page requesting assurances that Google would not accept advertising that promoted human trafficking including prostitution.  Seems kind of a normal request, doesn’t it?

Notwithstanding assurances, within a few months of the initial letter to Page, Rep. Maloney demanded that Google remove the Utoopi “sex club” app from the Android Market that facilitated prostitution in Maloney’s own district of New York and was promoted to female students. Note that Apple refused to accept the “sex club” app for the App Store, but Google had no such compunctions until they were called on it.

By members of Congress.

And now they march into Blackburn’s district to peddle their wares, crosspromoted by this handy YouTube video demoing the Utoopi “sex club” with a storyline about Nicole, the modern professional woman who is an office worker by day and and escort at night.  You know…broadcast yourself.

But this wasn’t the only time Google got caught promoting the sale of illegal goods: According to the BBC, Google was also caught brokering advertising that promoted the sale of counterfeit Olympics tickets.  In that case, Google refused to refund their profits from the illegal advertising.  Which is what we understand is their business practice with advertising illegal goods.  They take the ads, collect the revenue and when the pirates are “caught” (however that happens), Google keeps the pirate’s share of the ad revenue.  Because they are pirates, right?

And then there’s the petition calling on Google CEO Larry Page to stop selling advertising that promoted the sale of illegal ivory has received over 75,000 signatures.

The Google Transparency Report: Why Search is the Internet’s Version of the Ford Pinto
But the most damning evidence of what Google thinks about your music comes from its own report–the Google Transparency Report in which it tracks how many takedown notices it receives on search alone–this does not include YouTube or Blogger or Android.  And it only includes the notices that Google receives using its automated takedown tools–not available to your average songwriter.
As of this morning, Google had received over 19,000,000 takedown requests in the last month.  And Google has acknowledged that 97% of these requests are accurate, bona fide takedown notices for infringing links.
Ask yourself this:  What does a company that gets 19,000,000 take down notices per month–at a huge cost to the creative community–what do they know about creators?
Other than they want to commoditize creative works on a scale never before seen.
What that number of takedown notices should tell you is that there is something wrong with search, there is a design defect in the Google algorithm in particular.  And companies have responsibility for design defects in their products.  They don’t get out of liability because their products scale.
Ford did not get out of liability for deciding it was cost-effective to manufacture a car with a design defect that caused the gas tank to explode.
And they sure didn’t get out of that liability for any one of them because they made a lot of Pintos.
The USC-Annenberg Innovation Lab is doing a study about brand sponsored piracy and has identified Google as a major offender based on the top 500 sites in Google’s own Transparency Report.  Google’s response in the LA Times was “To the extent [the study] suggests that Google ads are a major source of funds for major pirate sites, we believe it is mistaken,” a Google spokesperson said.” Ah.  So they are a minor source of funds for major pirate sites?  Or a major source of funds for minor pirate sites?
What this means is that the advertisers who would buy ads from Pandora or Spotify to get to music fans are able to buy the same ads from the vast pirate ad inventory at a much lower price.  So the artist and songwriter gets ripped off by the pirates to Google’s profit, then the legitimate sites struggle because of low CPMs and then want to pay the artists and songwriters even lower royalties.
And Where is the Straight Count?
Turning to the legitimate side of Google’s business, there’s some bad behavior there, too. (For you Godfather fans, we refer to YouTube and Google Play as the “Genco Olive Oil” side of Google’s business.)
If you look at the Google indie publisher license for YouTube you will notice something missing–an audit clause.  I asked a YouTube representative at a public meeting whether this was an accident, or I was just missing the clause.
I was told in no uncertain terms that Google did not put an audit clause in their contract because they did not intend to be audited.
This is, of course, consistent with carpet bombing NOIs for compulsory licenses–and after their acquisition of Rightsflow, you will not be surprised to know they are terminating all of the Rightsflow agreements that have audit clauses.  Because remember–the Congress in their infinite wisdom refused to give songwriters the right to audit under the compulsory license (or as David Israelite might say, the compulsory license also known as prison).
So when you see the Google reps being brought into Nashville by the missionaries, be sure you ask them a few questions about their bona fides since they profess to love songwriters so damn much.
And if you run out, just let me know.
I have more.