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An Interview with Andrew Shaw of PRS for Music on Negotiating with Google, a guest post by Jonathan David Neal

January 15, 2016 Comments off

[Editor Charlie sez: In honor of the new PRS-YouTube license in the UK, we’re reposting this harrowing first hand account of the first YouTube/PRS negotiation.  For PRS members, there’s a good chance that this post has more information about your deal than you’ll ever get anywhere else because your rates are–you know–confidential and stuff.

This post is by Jonathan David Neal and originally appeared in The Score, the membership publication of the Society of Composers and Lyricists.  You can read his blog at Composer’s POV. PRS for Music is the principal music licensing body for performances of music in the United Kingdom and is roughly the equivalent of ASCAP, BMI and SESAC for UK residents.  Although this interview is from 2009, it gives you some insight into Google’s over the top negotiation tactics and how they use the withholding of content as a negotiation tactic in the press–enforcing your property rights is “censorship” don’t you know.  This is a long read, but worth every minute and is information you won’t get anywhere else.]

An interview by composer Jonathan David Neal with Andrew Shaw, Managing Director of Broadcast and Online of PRS for Music.

Background:

In the summer of 2007 PRS For Music, the UK PRO, licensed You Tube, owned by Google, for music use on a per download basis. That contract ended at the end of December 2008, at which time Google and PRS entered negotiations to renew the contract. In March 2009 while continuing negotiations Google, without warning blocked premium content access to users in the UK and few weeks later did the same thing in Germany. I interviewed Andrew Shaw (who is one of the PRS negotiators) in London on May 15, 2009. This story has strong implications for composers, songwriters and lyricists all over the world, since we are in a continuing struggle to maintain our rights as creators and copyright owners.

Neal: Please give us a short back-story to the [PRS’s] struggle with Google & You Tube

Shaw: Well, I think that to understand what is happening now you need to understand the history of where it all came from. You Tube as you know was started in December 2005 and was bought by Google in early to mid 2006 and that’s the time it really started getting some traction in the market place. The service had evolved from very humble beginnings as a way for private individuals to share their home videos. But over a period of time, the content that was being uploaded was copyright content rather than people having dinner parties and they were for a long time relying on their DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) protections and equivalent protections in Europe to say they had no liability for the content.

Neal: For the readers please explain DMCA.

Shaw: Digital Millennium Copyright Act, that is essentially the US law that says if you are a mere conduit you don’t have any  responsibility for what’s transmitted over your pipe provided that if someone notifies you that you are hosting illegal content, you take reasonable steps to take it down as soon as possible [Ed. Charlie: And without knowledge of infringment and if you terminate repeat infringers]. Google was saying, “Look we are just a big electronic notice board that some people around the  world decide to post things onto and other people around the world decide to come and have a look at these notices and we’ve actually got no idea what’s going on.”

Part of the business logic was that there is a huge community of users out here and “if we take the Google experience and knowledge of digital advertising sales and sprinkle some of that pixie dust onto You Tube, you’ve got excellent digital advertising sales married with a huge user base and massive traffic scale.” I think one of the reasons it hasn’t worked in that way is you’ve got millions of individual pieces of content that are all being viewed, the majority of which are being viewed a relatively small number of times.

The whole principle of Google’s advertising is it’s contextual advertising but they couldn’t actually identify what the content is, so if you tag a video as, for example, “Madonna,” You Tube or a computer has no idea whether that is a pop video or something about the Catholic church.

Advertisers were finding that adverts were appearing next to content that they weren’t quite aware of what that content was. They wanted their brand to be associated in certain places and not with others types of content. [Ed. Charlie sez: like an implied endorsement.] So the whole business model of advertising and targeted advertising required a much greater level of precision of knowledge of what was in the video.

Now as soon as you get into a level of knowledge about what’s in the video, by default you know what that video is and therefore, you start to lose your potential defenses that you are just a mere conduit and you don’t know what’s going on.

So there is a sort of process whereby, I suppose you call it “dancing around the handbags,” where they came to us and said, “We would like to have a license, but, of course, we don’t need one.” We said, “We’d like to give you a license, but we need to know what you’re doing.” They said, “Well we can’t tell you because we don’t know, because if we knew…” and there was a sort of Kafkaesque situation.

But we took what I think was a pragmatic view at the time and said look, at the end of the day we’ve actually  got two choices. We can either license You Tube and try and get what we believe is a fair and equitable remuneration for the works being used and pass that back to our members or we can go down the litigious route and sue them like Viacom had done or we can do nothing. We felt that doing nothing was sort of tacit approval that this was all acceptable.

We took the pragmatic view that licensing was preferable to litigation, for a number of reasons. First of all, getting into litigation was always going to be extremely expensive, extremely time consuming and take a long time to get resolution. The Viacom case proves that point. At the end of the day the outcome was very uncertain. An uncertain outcome might have been great, it might have been not so good and in a worst case, it could have been not so good with a knock on impact on all sorts of other areas of our business. We took the view that licensing was the best approach, so we licensed them.

We were the first society in the world to license You Tube, which was a major coup for us. But, I think that it was also, a major turning point for You Tube because it was the first time, that they had, actually, by default, recognized that they required a license, where if they didn’t require a license and they were so sure of that they certainly wouldn’t take one out. So, we licensed them in the summer of 2007. The license expired at the end of last year, 2008.

During the two years of You Tube’s license they were a model licensee. They did absolutely everything they said they were going to do, they went above and often beyond the call of duty in terms of trying to work with us to develop standardized reporting mechanisms, reporting tools, and we enjoyed a very good working relationship with them.

So, we’re now in a position at the end of 2008 where our license comes up to expire, we’ve got 18 months worth of data about what is actually being used on the service.

We’ve also seen a big transition in the content that’s been on the service over that 18 month period. They had realized that a very large number of videos being watched over a relatively small period of time, with no knowledge of what’s going on, was not going to generate big advertising revenue. Where the advertising money was going to be was in sponsorships and professional content. And so they started actively acquiring what they called seeded content, so they went to the BBC and did a deal to get clips of programs and previews. They’ve now expanded this to all sorts of different content owners, whether it be Hollywood studios, music labels, the White House, Downing Street, whatever.

[Ed. Charlie sez: The evidence against YouTube in the ongoing Viacom case and class action suggests that YouTube knowingly and purposely seeded their website with illegally obtained and distributed premium content for the purpose of profiting from the users attracted to the seeded content.]

A large proportion of the value of what is being generated by YouTube is actually around seeded content [Ed. Charlie: that is the revenue to YouTube], notwithstanding the fact that it accounts for a relatively small proportion of the usage. So you’ve got a sort of asynchronous pattern there. And, clearly music has been a very big area for them; they’ve done deals with all the labels except Warner Bros. and the labels have actively created channels for their artists on YouTube, where artist videos can be shown/promoted.

Now as far as we’re concerned, when you use a generated content, it’s pretty hard to value as far as the music, for instance, from the copyright point of view because you don’t know whether the music is in the foreground, the background, whether it’s incidental, whether it’s 30 seconds, 5 seconds or is it the whole point of the piece or is it just incidental to it. Then if you sort of move up the hierarchy of value, as far as music is concerned, you get into the professional seeded content where clearly there is some economic benefit being derived either by YouTube or the content user or both as a result of making that content available.

But still, music is a supporting ingredient to the finished created work. And then the “top end” of value from our perspective, is something like a pop video where music is actually the whole essence of it. If you then relate that to our regulatory framework, we have something called a “joint-online” license, which is our licensing scheme for digital music, and it was the subject of a  copyright tribunal decision back in 2007.

The copyright tribunal (UK Copyright Tribunal-similar to the US CRB) set a rate which was sort of equivalent to the American CRB, and the rate that they set for digital exploitation of music, pure music, like a pop video, was the greater of 8% of revenue or 0.22 pence per work streamed. So, every time a video was shown, we should have been paid at the greater of 8% or 0.22 pence.

The rates that they (the UK Copyright Tribunal) published in the summer of 2007, would only be applicable for a 2-year period, and it would expire in July 2009; they didn’t say what would happen after that. So, it is obviously incumbent upon us to do extensive market analysis and then come to a decision as to whether anything material had changed between then and now that would justify amending those rates or the structure of those rates, and if so to put that into place. So, we’ve been going through this process, and we are close to publishing what our new rates will be in the next few weeks. But YouTube, and Google has, and again, this is not confidential because they’ve said it publicly, said their position is a per-stream minimum for a service like You Tube doesn’t work, the only thing that works is a percentage of revenue. On a superficial level, their argument sounds very plausible. They say, “We’re trying to create this brand new business model, we’re giving exposure to all of these artists and these musical works, all we want to do is share in the revenues that we’re able to generate with the creators of those works. We absolutely believe the creators should be paid, but they should be paid a percentage of what we can make.”

Our view is that music has a value, irrespective of whether or not someone else is able to generate revenue out of it. If [music] didn’t have a value, then, [Google] wouldn’t be using it.

And it is very important for a number of reasons, including that the rights of creators are respected and they are remunerated a small amount of money every single time the music is played. There are a number of reasons why it’s important, one is, as I’ve said, it has a value.

The second is that specifically with respect to YouTube, any person who is uploading content has 3 choices when they upload that content. It gets fingerprinted and they can choose to monetize it, they can choose to not monetize it, or they can choose to block it. But, we don’t believe that if a third party makes a decision not to monetize content that it can be fair to the creator of that content not to get any sort of remuneration; a decision over which they (the creators) have no control.

The third reason is that with respect again to YouTube, there is a huge amount of crosssubsidization going on. Before the internet came along, there were lots of areas of commerce where as product or services become commoditized, what their provider does is bundle them with other products and services. So whether it’s handsets and minutes for mobile phone tariffs, whether it’s cable television and telephone and broadband connection from a cable TV provider, or whether it’s Google, whose business actually is all about the monetization of data.

To a large extent they don’t care whether the data they have about you comes from your email usage, your calendar, your search patterns or what you’re watching on You Tube. All of that has a value to them that is far greater than the sum of the parts. And therefore, simply looking at how much advertising is sold against one particular page of showing a video on YouTube is not an accurate and reflective economic analysis on which to base an appropriate remuneration for creators. That fundamentally, is a difference of opinion between the two of us.

We believe creators should be paid a small amount of money every time their music is used.

They [Google] believe that creators should be paid a percentage of what they can make in terms of advertising.

So, what happened after that is that we had been having our negotiations and had a meeting scheduled for, a series of meetings scheduled and a plan to try and come to some resolution, when on a Monday afternoon, I received a phone call from Google saying “We have made a decision that we are going to block all premium music content with effect from 6pm tonight.”

Neal: No notice? [Ed. Charlie sez: Welcome to the Googleplex.]

Shaw: No, this call came at 2:30 in the afternoon. This was clearly a very calculated and premeditated tactic on their part, because first of all, we had actually had a meeting with them the previous Friday where we had been consulting with them on what their views were for our new joint online license. The next negotiation meeting had actually been penciled in for the following day, a Tuesday, so it was rather strange that 2:30 in the afternoon, I get this phone call, and within 5 minutes of me putting the phone down, I started getting calls from our press office, who were receiving calls from every single media outlet in the UK, saying “We’ve heard that Google is about to block all music videos in the UK tonight-what have you got to say about it?”

Chris Smith: Big Day . . .

Shaw: Now, what they actually did was very highly targeted, and designed to create a much bigger story than the actual impact on the user experience. If you go on to YouTube even today in the UK, you may not be able to find every single version of a particular pop video, but I would pretty much bet that whatever video you wanted to find, you could find a version of it somewhere. So, they have not blocked all music videos in the UK. What they have purported to do, is to block what they call Premium Music Content. Premium Music Content by their definition is content that is either being uploaded by record labels or claimed by record labels, either some label uploaded or it seems someone else has uploaded it, they’ve owned it and they’ve said we own the copyright in this and therefore it’s part of our pot.

I think there are 3 reasons why they honed in on these two. Number one, it was the only part of the content set that actually disrupted other people’s revenue funds. So, if Joe Blog gets their video blocked, they get pissed off, but, so what? If Universal Music gets their video blocked, they stop receiving revenue every time that video is played.

So, the tactic, one has to assume, was to put pressure on other people who were being affected, to put pressure on us, to concede our position. So, one was it was disrupting other people’s revenue flows.

The second was that it was highly targeted, as I said, on the Premium Music Content, which actually accounted for a relatively small portion of all usage on YouTube. So, the videos concerned, and we don’t know exactly how many there are, because it seems to change on a daily basis, but it accounts for probably single digit percentage of total views or streams viewed on YouTube.

The third reason was that they will still at some point claim that as far as user generated content is concerned, (as opposed to) user uploaded content, because they are two quite different things, they would still want to fall back on some sort of “We’ve got no responsibility for this.” As soon as you start blocking something because it fits into a certain category then you have to know what it is in order to block it.

So, by leaving all of the user uploaded content alone they preserve their position with respect to DMCA protections and a lack of obligation to take responsibility for that content.

So they have blocked some of these videos, a few weeks later they did the same thing in Germany. They publicly said that the reason they did it was because they were unable to reach an agreement with us, although, we were still in the middle of a negotiation and we certainly did not ask them to take this action, and take content down.

They also said they felt uncomfortable being in a position where they were not licensed. Now, I find that quite ironic, given that the other 200 or so countries in the world don’t seem to pose such a moral dilemma for them and their content is still available there. Since the date of the take-down, or the blockage, I think March, about 2 months ago now, so early March, we have continued to talk to them and we do continue to talk to them, but there is still a fundamental difference of opinion over what they are responsible for and what is the appropriate mechanism to judge that.

Neal: At this point, you don’t really know what kind of effect it’s had? Have you heard from publishing members or record labels complaining that they’re losing money on this?

Shaw: No. I have to say we’ve been extremely pleased by the support that we’ve got from a wide variety of constituents and  stakeholders in the industry, and actually, not just in our industry, but across all creative industries.

This is not an issue between Google and PRS Music: this is a battle that we happen to have stuck our head above the parapet, being in a large territory that’s important to them, perhaps having been the first to license them, but, we are being made an example of in a battle that applies equally to record labels, it applies to journalists, it applies to book publishers and photography.

Any type of content that is being exploited over the internet, where there is a very fine line between a company providing an ability for consumers to find what they’re looking for, that other people have put there, and a company that is actually providing that content as a service provider. There is a fine line between data and/or information and content. If you go on to Google’s corporate website and look at their strategy file, their mission statement, one of their strat lines is “Don’t be evil” but another is there that is the corporate mission, (I can’t remember it verbatim) but it’s something like “to make all the world’s information available to anybody who wants to find it,” something like that. And that word, “information”, was probably put in there when that’s exactly what they did, but the line between information and content has become very, very blurred.

And if you look at what’s going on in the US with the book settlement, you look at what’s going on all over the world with newspapers and the Google news aggregation service and Google books as well, there are lots of areas where that line is becoming very blurred and probably being overstepped.

___________________

Conclusion by Jonathan David Neal

This is just one example, in one part of the world of how some corporate giants are trying to devalue the work and content of creators, and ultimately respect of composers, and songwriters. It’s happening all over the world. Their mantra has been, “you need us.” However, they need our content, which is just as important. A second observation is, “if they devalue our intellectual property, they undermine the value of their own intellectual property, their services and everyone loses.”

It’s very short sighted. We as composers, songwriters and lyricists need to take an active stand against those who would devalue our work and demand respect for our craft and ourselves.

Note: On September 3, 2009 PRS for Music announced a new licensing agreement that covers music contained in videos streamed via the online video platform.  Premium music videos have now been reinstated to YouTube in the United Kingdom.

Thanks to Dan Foliart and UK Composer Chris Smith, for helping me make this interview possible. Chris sits on the board of PRS-MCPS and arranged the interview, which took place at PRS For Music’s London office in May of 2009.

Will the European Union Break Up Google and Should They Include YouTube?

November 22, 2014 Comments off

When Kim Dot Com was arrested, a reporter asked me if I was surprised.  This reaction completely went against the mood of the moment about the fellow.  You’re not? (Incredulous)  Why not? (Scandalized).

Because if you get down on your knees and beg to be punished, don’t be surprised if you are.

I have the same reaction to news that the European Parliament is considering a resolution that Google should be treated as a monopoly in Europe and be “broken up” or required to divest itself of its search business.  According to Reuters:

The European Parliament is preparing a non-binding resolution that proposes splitting Google Inc’s search engine operations in Europe from the rest of its business as one possible option to rein in the Internet company’s dominance in the search market.

European politicians have grown increasingly concerned about Google’s and other American companies’ command of the Internet industry, and have sought ways to curb their power. A public call for a break-up would be the most far-reaching action proposed and a significant threat to Google’s business.

The draft motion does not mention Google or any specific search engine, though Google is by far the dominant provider of such services in Europe with an estimated 90 percent market share.

So how did this come to pass?  It’s simple:  Once again, Google overplayed their hand.  Supposedly the master of public relations and behind the scenes play, Google–and in particular Eric Schmidt (call sign “Uncle Sugar”)–dragged out the European Commission’s antitrust investigation for four years.  But oopsie–that also coincided with the term of the antitrust official of the EC with whom Schmidt had become BFFs.  Uncle Sugar left out the closing part.  When you spend four years working on a deal with a guy, you want to be thinking in terms of that closing bit.  Especially when you know going in that the guy you’re schmoozing is LEAVING ON A DATE CERTAIN.

What Google was truing to avoid was/is something called a “Statement of Objections” that is an administrative proceeding in EC law that allows the imposition of a fine for violating the EC competition law.  That should be a huge amount of money–in Google’s case some estimates are $10 Billion–and it comes with service after the sale, meaning regulatory oversight.

What has become apparent in the not one, not two, not three but an unprecedented four settlement negotiations with the OUTGOING competition commissioner, is that Google has in fact violated the laws that they are avoiding prosecution under.  And even if Google is prosecuted now, they’ve still had an extra four years of operating profits, an extra four years of expanding their control over European governments and an extra four years of extending what Public Citizen called Google’s “soft power”.

However, what has also happened in the intervening four years is hockey stick increase in the public distrust of Google and extreme dissatisfaction with the way the EC was handling the Google investigation.  All the supposed “settlement” proposals that Google made were that special kind of “we think you’re an idiot” approach that anyone who has dealt with Google will immediately recognize.  A fish rots from Uncle Sugar down, don’t you know.

What has happened instead is that there is a full throated movement now among Members of the European Parliament to do what’s worse for Google than paying almost any fine:  Divestiture.

It is possible for governments to require extremely large (check), arrogant (check) and unrepentant (check) violators of antitrust law to divest themselves of certain assets.  This is a relatively normal process with mergers (we’ve even seen record companies required to do this as a condition of approving the merger), and that’s a different breed of cat altogether as it’s part of an overall negotiation.

But to cause divestiture with a company that has violated the antitrust laws is far less common.  We saw this with the break up of the Bell system in the US (United States v. AT&T, 552 F.Supp. 131 (D.D.C. 1982) for those reading along).  The reason for the AT&T case was that the FCC accused the company of using monopoly profits from its Western Electric subsidiary to subsidize the costs of its network.  Sound familiar? I’ll come back to this.

It’s important to note that the way that this break up would be accomplished is not through the European Parliament as Deutche Welle reports:

While the European Parliament lacks the authority to break up corporations and has no power to initiate legislation, such a resolution would increase the pressure on the European Commission to take action against Google.

“It’s a strong expression of the fact that things are going to change,” Gary Reback, a United States attorney who has filed complaints against Google on behalf of companies said, adding “The parliament doesn’t bind the commission for sure, but they have to listen.”

According to Reuters, the resolution was co-sponsored by German center-right Christian Democrat lawmaker Andreas Schwab and Spanish centrist Ramon Tremosa earlier this week. Schwab told Reuters it was “very likely” to be adopted by his own parliamentary group and it was also supported by the main center-left group.

The new anti-trust chief for Europe, European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, said she would take some time to decide on the next step in a long-running investigation into Google, after her predecessor, Joaquin Almunia, had rejected a proposed settlement with Google which would have ended the matter.

Regardless of whether the European Parliament has the authority to break up Google, it is not a good thing on many levels for even a nonbinding resolution to be adopted in favor of that result.  It’s like the Parliament is telling the public we don’t like Google, we’re keeping an eye on Google and we really don’t trust Google.  And the signal it sends to the new European Competition Commissioner is–go for it.

But that’s not really the end of it.  What about YouTube?  Extremely large (check), arrogant (check) and unrepentant (check) violators of antitrust law.

If Google dominates search in Europe, YouTube is just another search vertical–video search.  And we know that Google used its monopoly profits from search advertising to subsidize YouTube for years.  We’ve seen in the indie label case filed against YouTube with the same European Competition Commission that YouTube certainly behaves like a monopolist–because YouTube is a monopoly.  So Google used its monopoly profits to create a new search monopoly with YouTube and then used its monopoly control to try to bully independent labels.

It also appears that YouTube was unable to use the brass knuckle negotiation tactics it’s so famous for to bully the indie labels into dropping their complaint in Brussels as a condition of closing the Music Key license.  But the case stands out as a prime example of what should be done if the divestment train gets rolling.  Google search and YouTube are just two sides of the same coin.

And of course what it all comes down to is that Google uses its monopoly position to dominate smaller players, all the while harvesting data to profile Google’s search users and music fans on YouTube.  And we all are contributing to Google’s ultimate monopoly–data.

Google shares data across all its platforms which itself a kind of monopoly subsidy across all it’s platforms.  So you can’t really accomplish the goal if all you do is divest the search platform.  YouTube itself must also be spun off with separate management and transparency in data sharing.

As Garth Brooks said, “I’m telling you, [YouTube is] the devil.”  Who never would have survived without subsidies from Google’s monopoly profits.

A Teachable Moment: Google’s Insulting Reply to News Corp Tells the New Regime in Brussels What It Needs to Know

September 19, 2014 Comments off

As MTP readers will recall, Google is locked in the proverbial death struggle with the European Commission over antitrust complaints of Google’s anticompetitive behavior.  Those complaints resulted in an antitrust investigation going back several years.  For Google, winning that investigation would look like palming off as real change some ice in winter changes to their business practices as part of a bureaucratic charm offensive.  That charm offensive resulted in the embarrassing image of Eric “Uncle Sugar” Schmidt cozying up to his new BFF the Competition Commissioner of the European Commission, Joaquín Almunia.

Commissioner Almunia gave Google not one, not two, but an unprecedented three opportunities to negotiate a settlement on Google’s own terms–and Google is desperately trying for a fourth before Mr. Almunia’s term expires in October, and yes I do expect an October surprise from Mr. Almunia.  Every time Google got a chance to renegotiate rather than getting fined or sued by the European Commission, two things happened:  The deal looked shadier and shadier to a wider and wider group of consumers, small business and competitors, and the clock was ticking on Commissioner Almunia’s term in office–a term that ends in October with a new commissioner replacing him in November.

Not only is it ever more apparent, and embarrassingly so, that Mr. Almunia ain’t exactly a steely eyed missile man, he’s been put in the very awkward position of looking like he’s been conned just as the clock runs out.  That almost surely means that Google will not only have to start over again with Almunia’s successor, but will also put the successor on guard for the buddy act from Uncle Sugar and Google’s other smarmy lobbyists–who are legion.  Not only does Google risk a $5 billion fine, the US multinational behemoth is looking at lots of other regulatory oversight.

And the contours of that oversight have yet to be determined because Mr. Almunia was so distracted by Schmidt.  What’s happened during Mr. Almunia’s investigation may yet inform the next competition commissioner’s investigation and rulings.

The Piracy Platform

As Complete Music Update observes:

Google is increasingly seen as a big enabler of piracy by the copyright industries, for failing to de-list blatantly copyright infringing websites from its search results, even when courts have ordered said websites be blocked on infringement grounds. And on launching her organisation’s ‘Measuring Music’ report yesterday, UK Music boss Jo Dipple noted that a top priority for the industry’s lobbyists is getting “help to ensure the many legal music services we licence are given priority in online search results”.

By using its dominant search engine to drive traffic to pirate sites (many of which publish advertising served by Google’s advertising shops Adsense and DoubleClick), Google is arguably able to drive down pricing for its legitimate music services because the alternative is zero.  Ask yourself how many times you’ve heard someone say that YouTube’s abysmal royalty is “better than nothing”, meaning better than being ripped off.

News Corp’s CEO Robert Thompson wrote a complaint to Mr. Almunia regarding Google’s position in the piracy food chain among other things.  This letter is particularly compelling because of a few factors.  Just as Mr. Almunia’s investigation into Google was really falling apart a few months ago, YouTube launched its attack against indie labels resulting in IMPALA filing a complaint against YouTube with the EU–that is, Mr. Almunia–regarding YouTube’s cartoon-like treatment of indie labels.  While the timing of the IMPALA complaint was outside of Mr. Almunia’s investigation of Google, it merits an investigation of its own.  This is why YouTube was being particularly idiotic, even for them.  It is hard to explain why YouTube’s senior executive team thought that this was a good plan except for the usual reason.  Blood lust for beating up the weaker kid blinded them from seeing that the weaker kid was about to land a haymaker.

But that’s almost too easy an explanation, however accurate.  There must have been something else, we’re just all failing to see what it was.  Just not smart enough, you know how it is.

Mr. Thompson made a couple key points about Google from the point of view of News Corp as a content creator.  What’s interesting about that is how it connects the current investigation to Google’s profit from piracy and use of piracy as a competitive advantage that allows it to dominate online music search, including video search with YouTube.  Even Fred “Shred ‘Em if You Got “Em” Von Lohman will have a hard time spinning this one.

Mr. Thompson said:

“A company that boasts about its ability to track traffic chooses to ignore the unlawful and unsavoury content that surfaces after the simplest of searches. Google has been remarkably successful in its ability to monetize users, but has not shown the willingness, even though it clearly has the ability, to respect fundamental property rights.”

“The internet should be a canvas for freedom of expression and for high-quality content of enduring value. Undermining the basic business model of professional content creators will lead to a less informed, more vexatious level of dialogue in our society. Your decision to reconsider Google’s settlement offer comes at a crucial moment in the history of the free flow of information and of a healthy media in Europe and beyond”.

We’ve had Google’s sunshine blown up our skirts for over a decade and as Mr. Thomson suggests it just doesn’t explain this:

Goog Transparency

And it also doesn’t explain why Google doesn’t comply with the many promises it has broken to creators, producing results like this:

myfreemp3

As Complete Music Update said:

Thomson’s letter confirms that Murdoch’s newspaper and book empire is an ally of those in the music business who reckon that Google – while on one level a partner and revenue generator – is also an enemy of the content industries. And while Thomson’s specific focus is the allegedly anti-competitive business practices rather than the intellectual property issues usually raised by the labels, firstly it’s anti-competitive behaviour being alleged by the indie label community against Google in the ongoing YouTube dispute, and secondly Thomson makes sure Almunia is also aware of the copyright concerns in his letter too.

The Teachable Moment

The unlikely allies of IMPALA and News Corp can help the new competition commissioner understand that they have identified the real hook for the next investigation of the competition commission–not only does Google profit from piracy and lie about it, Google uses piracy to give their own products a competitive advantage.  There are an increasing number of studies showing a link between search and piracy–the most recent from Professors Sivan, Smith and Telang, Do Search Engines Influence Media Piracy?  (extending the work of Professors Danaher, Smith, Telang and Chen.) There’s very little difference between the anticompetitive practices for which Google was investigated by the EU over the last several years and those that they employ daily to drive traffic to pirate sites.  Traffic that profits Google’s advertising sales while driving royalty prices lower because of both their market dominance (such as with YouTube) and the “it’s better than nothing” hopelessness Google engenders with its defective search policies that it could change overnight, but won’t.

Google’s Nondenial Denial

How does Google respond to News Corp?  The Guardian reports:

Google chose to use language the Sun would understand in response toNews Corp’s complaint to the European Commission that it was a “platform for piracy”. In one of the less likely corporate responses of recent years, Google issued the following statement: “Phew what a scorcher! Murdoch accuses Google of eating his hamster.” And that was that, Google deciding an homage to the paper’s famous Freddie Starr front page was more effective than a point-by-point rebuttal of News Corp chief executive’s Robert Thomson’s complaint. Google fans (and otherwise) keen to explore the issues further were pointed to a recent blogpost by its executive chairman Eric Schmidt. No word yet on whether News Corp will respond in kind. “Up yours, Google” maybe? Or “Will the last person not to use Google as a search engine please turn off their computer?”

This is what is called a nondenial denial that could have been written by one of the sophomoric Google fanboys.  (In fact, it would not surprise me if that were literally true.)

It’s still a nondenial denial, but it tells you that Google doesn’t give a rats patootie about the consequences of its role in promoting piracy to its own advantage, doesn’t respect the EU investigation and really does not care about creators.

It also doesn’t really care much about governments, either.  And when it comes to individual creators struggling against a gigantic American multinational media empire–like Google–we all need the government to do its part to protect creators and consumers from these rogue companies profiting from outright theft in the biggest income transfer of all time.

Book Review: “Free Ride: How Digital Parasites Are Destroying the Culture Business and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back” by Robert Levine

March 22, 2012 Comments off

There is something comforting about hearing the Speaker of the House of Commons crying “Order, order” and having the MPs actually heed that instruction.  It’s particularly comforting in light of the tragic wilding that has been occurring in the ancient city of London, the font of British civility and civilization.  But the rioting in London is really the stuff of the Internet made flesh, a virtual tableau come to life.  So this is as good a time as any to mention Robert Levine’s book, Free Ride, currently the subject of the Two Minutes Hate on the Internet.  Yet the book is, as Bill Keller, former executive editor of the New York Times, put it recently, “a wonderfully clear-eyed account of this colossal struggle over the future of our cultural lives.”

Let the Wilding Rumpus Start

Levine has written a book that is a must read for all policy makers and indeed all professional creators.  Free Ride is an excellent survey of the current state of play online but also examines the cultural underpinnings of the principle excuses (and in some cases, affirmative defenses) developed by the execuprofs like Lessig and the Berkman Center.  Not surprisingly, the wilding rumpus has begun online which is what happens when you poke the sacred cows.

(“Execuprofs” are those who are ostensibly employed by academic institutions, but whose work is primarily directed at benefiting the corporations who contribute money to their schools or causes.  If these academics were actually executives at the corporations who benefit from their work, they would not be able to proselytize as credibly.  As long as they keep the corporate contributions hidden in plain sight–or hidden–they can continue in this netherworld pretty successfully.  But they are neither executives (no P/L responsiblity) nor professors (conflicts).)

Review of Policy Based Academic Studies

Levine’s book takes a very even-handed look at topics that are generally spun so hard by execuprofs from big institutions like Stanford and Harvard that it’s often hard for policy makers to know what reality is.  Even the U.S. Government Accountability Office has been taken in by some shadowy “experts” who the GAO refuses to name in support of its conclusion that the U.S. government must take into account the positive effects of crime in considering intellectual property policies.  Levine reviews some of the studies the GAO refers to in the GAO’s “study of studies” as well as some of the studies the GAO should have reviewed but failed to include (possibly at the direction of their shadowy “experts”), which should be illuminating to policy makers around the world.   For example, Levine considers the study by Felix Oberholzer-Gee which concluded that policy makers need not worry about online theft because musicians would work for “free beer” and “admiration” (if you know what I mean) as well as the extensive work of economist Stan Liebowitz which, among other things, mounted a very effective criticism of the “free beer” campaign.  (The GAO included the “free beer” study, but not the Liebowitz work–probably on the advice of the secret “experts”.)

For this reason alone Free Ride is an important book for policy makers to keep close by.

Worldwide Blanket Licensing

Levine takes a look at Jim Griffin’s various unworkable ideas about blanket licensing that MTP readers will recall we have discussed in numerous fora and have criticized.  (See my lecture at Osgoode Hall in Toronto, for example and our article in the ABA journal.)  Unfortunately, Levine doesn’t take into account the use of the global database idea as a “bright and shiny object” to further delay the enforcement of property rights online and create full employment for consultants for what will inevitably prove to be a sideshow.  But this is a small criticism of the book and should not be taken as a detraction from an otherwise highly effective and well researched presentation.

The Hands of the Google

One of the truly significant themes in the book is how Levine has laid out in one place all the different ways that Google influences public policy around the world.  This is done through his discussion of the execuprofs, groups like the EFF and Google’s massive contributions to Creative Commons, as well as a history of the YouTube case.  I mean the Viacom case against Google–sorry.  (Saying “the YouTube case” alone is like saying “my brother is in the Army, maybe you know him.”)

For busy policy makers who are trying to get their arms around the Google debacle through the sea of hundreds of Google lobbyists that must cost Google hundreds of millions worldwide, as well as Google’s high levels of government influence (especially in the UK), Levine provides a handy scorecard to keep track of the players.  This is not a black helicopter exercise–Levine has put in the Herculean effort to follow the money from Google to its many front groups.

The book’s review in the Financial Times is generally positive, but has this to say about Levine’s Google analysis (full disclosure, FT is my favorite business website and I tend to overquote them):

“On Google, Levine is correct that this most powerful of digital businesses will  need careful regulation in future. Yet if the company’s “war on copyright” is as  cunning as the author claims, it remains mysterious why it has, as yet, been so  unsuccessful. True, this week Britain’s government did approve some relatively  minor tweaks  to copyright laws. But, on both sides of the Atlantic, sensible attempts to  stop copyright term extension, which often runs long after an artist has died,  have largely failed – usually in the face of fierce lobbying from the very same  media companies Levine paints as victims.”

I actually disagree with the FT’s conclusion.  If Google had just made illegal scans of millions of books without the hundreds of lobbyists and the proverbial legion of lawyers, Google executives would probably be in the federal penitentiary.  So since they are not–yet–in that sense, Google’s campaign has been highly successful.

More importantly, the last sentence may belie the FT reviewer’s sympathies for the arguments of Lessig and many other execuprofs:  Copyright terms that extend “long after an artist has died” is the key point that Google and its followers, including its followers in the press, are most interested in because they wish to cut off the benefits of copyright to the hated “heirs”.  (See also Lessig, “The Starving Artist Canard“.)

The author advances an argument based on duration of the copyright term that will sound familiar to readers of Free Ride.  Lessig wants artists to accept a 14 year copyright term and give up the current life plus 70 as the copyright term (allowing an artist’s heirs to capture the benefit of either a discovery of the deceased artist after their death, or the benefit of being provided for like the journalist’s heirs are from his own estate).  While the reviewer apparently deigns to allow an artist the right to benefit from their creation during their life, when they die, that’s it.  A 100% estate tax.

The FT, of course, makes a silly argument.  But it’s silly for two reasons.  First, artists who want to enforce their rights will be very unlikely to accept a legislated cut from life plus 70 to 14 no matter how much Lessig wants to disenfranchise their heirs.  Even if Lessig manages to pull off the U.S. constitutional convention which would allow him to literally rewrite the copyright clause and finally seek his revenge on the U.S. Supreme Court that denied him in his humiliating defeat in Eldred, it is unlikely that the rest of the world would follow.  (See the eponymous Con-Con-Con effort at Harvard–where else–later this year where there is to be a gathering of grifters of all stripes–or in the case of the Poker Prof, suits.)

Second, the reality is that we currently have a 5 minute copyright.  That’s how long it takes for most works to be digitized and placed on p2p, Bit Torrent networks or cyberlockers for which Google delivers search results and on which Google sells advertising.  Google is bitterly fighting any government effort to cut off this ad revenue by enforcing intellectual property rights through the Protect IP Act (or its predecessor COICA, that Levine discusses in Free Ride).  And as long as this is true, any success from Lessig’s Con-Con-Con job would only serve to drive a further nail in the coffin that I would argue his bizarre faux-philosphy built.

Why Regulation Won’t “Break the Internet”

Given the problems of the 5 minute copyright, Levine’s most important conclusion is the following excellent advice to policy makers who actually want to bring balance to the online environment that preserves consumer choice, protects intellectual property rights and defends the human rights of artists:

“We can do better.

No one believes that piracy could be stopped by a law like [the Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act, a precursor to the Protect IP Act] or an agreement between media companies and Internet service providers [such as the Copyright Alert System]….But regulations like these, whether private or public, would allow a working market to emerge.  Creators would sell, consumers would buy, and both would benefit….Artists would have the option of working with big companies or making their own way in an online economy that allowed them to do business, not just take donations.

In a functioning market, online media would get better, not just cheaper.  And this, in turn, would fuel the growth of more technology companies.  This wouldn’t break the Internet; it would help it live up to its potential.”

Hear, hear.

______________________
Buy the book here:

In the US, Book People and Amazon

Brussels and United Kingdom 

And read Levine’s Free Ride blog.

Andrew Orlowski’s review

The Resonance of Moral Design or Looking for Small Change in a House of Cards

Bunk about “Fair Use Industries” from the CCIA: What do Derek Jeter, Tom Adams and Ari Emanuel have in common?

March 3, 2012 Comments off

Now that the WIPO and OAS report on the economic contributions of copyright has been released, the Computer & Communications Industry Association (of which Google is a dominant member) is recirculating one of those greenhouse studies that comes with more than the usual ration of gas: “Fair Use in the U.S. Economy: Economic Contribution of Industries Relying on Fair Use.”  This is not to say that “fair use” (a defense to copyright infringement in the US) does not have its place in the infringers toolbox, but if the recent “Hargreaves Review” debacle is any guide, destroying copyright in order to save it is going to find barren ground–particularly when the “evidence” is founded on, well, tripe.

The CCIA’s piece of work was heralded by Rep. Polis (and we know a lot more about whose side he is on now than we did at the time the report was released) in a special press conference in which he emphasized the jobs created by the vast “fair use industries.”

Meaning Google mostly (which is why it’s often called the “Google Review“).  It didn’t wash in the UK with either the press or the Commons, even though the Joe Camel of Search actually hired the wife of one of the Prime Minister’s top aides to sell it to Hargreaves and stacked the Hargreaves Review task force with people like James Boyle of Creative Commons who loathes copyright.  Remember–Google gave millions to Creative Commons.

The way that the CCIA gets to this large number of jobs represented by the “fair use industries” is simply by counting all of the industries that most of its members are—to be kind—borrowing from.  Their methodology is based on the analysis of a leading anti-copyright academic, not the economist whose name is on the report.

If you think that the movie, television, recording, book and newspaper businesses think that they are in the “fair use” business, think again.  But even if you did believe that these companies receive some small benefit from the fair use defense, wouldn’t you think that the benefit to the U.S. economy from the fair use defense should be limited to the economic benefit from fair use?

And wouldn’t that require the companies themselves participating in the study to accurately allocate their revenues from works that had nothing to do with fair use?  Not to mention the fact that the fair use defense is largely a U.S. concept, so a further adjustment—downward–should be made for earnings outside of the U.S.?

And is it not just a little disingenuous to say that Viacom benefits the Joe Camel of Search based on Google’s fair use defense against Viacom? Or that any book publisher benefits Google on fair use grounds given Google’s spectacular loss in the Google Books case?

We will first take a look at the double counting fallacy imbedded in the flawed CCIA study and then bizarre notion that the management of CCIA’s largely non-union members whose employees are forced to give up their IP rights as a condition of their employment seeks to challenge the judgment of the legitimate union members.

The CCIA Study

According to The Hill, “[t]he study, which was commissioned by the Computer & Communications Industry Association, found that industries that depend on “fair use” exceptions to copyright laws make up one-sixth of the U.S. economy and employ one in eight American workers.”

Does that sound like bunk stuff to you?  It does to me.  What exactly is a “fair use industry” and does that not sound at least intuitively counter to the purpose of the fair use defense to copyright infringement?  (See 17 USC Sec. 107(4): “the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work”.)

The Hill also reports that CCIA asserts that “[f]air use industries weathered the recession better than many other sectors of the economy, according to the report.”  I wonder what other explanation there might be for that assertion aside from the one they want you to draw—which is that fair use leads to profit.   Actually–Google’s definition of fair use leads to one of the biggest income transfers of all time (see Ellen Seidler’s description of that income transfer at Popup Pirates).  I don’t mean the drug ads sold by the Joe Camel of Search, I mean the cyberlocker ads.

I ran into one of the senior CCIA folks at a public policy conference a few years ago and was struck by how little he actually knew about how the music and movie businesses actually work, particularly from a rights perspective.  For example, he had no understanding at all of the independent label and artist part of our business, and did not understand that the RIAA did not speak for songwriters and that the RIAA could not license for its members.  Very basic misunderstandings.  So it is not surprising that they got it wrong on this study—and since it’s a study they commissioned to advance their agenda, you have to assume that they got it wrong intentionally.

So why did they release this “study”?  The Hill reports that “[Rep.] Polis compared some stringent proposals to combat copyright infringement to fighting piracy at sea by shutting down seaports [that would be the rogue sites legislation Polis lead the opposition on]…. Ed Black, president and CEO of the CCIA, said in statement, ‘Too often we hear about the cost of piracy without also considering the cost to legitimate sectors of the U.S. economy of poorly targeted copyright enforcement measures like the pending Protect IP Act.’”

Ah, yes.  Of course.  This is all about CCIA member Google’s opposition to the Protect IP Act—which will have an extraordinary negative effect on the earnings of the Joe Camel of Search–Google could have really used that $500,000,000 they paid for a drugs fine to bolster their fourth quarter 2011 earnings.  (Because, to quote Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Google is engaged in “aiding and abetting theft.”)

Or alternatively, the ever-popular theory of the “positive effects of crime” which the GAO has taken such a fancy to.

So what they want you to believe is that the members of the AFL-CIO, the Teamsters, the American Federation of Musicians, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the Directors Guild of America, the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees, the Screen Actors Guild, Nashville Songwriters Association International and the Songwriters Guild of America do not speak for American workers.  Because they are…you know…union thugs according to Net Coalition and the EFF.

No, no.  You know who speaks for American workers?  Yep, The Man 2.0.  The CCIA speaks for American workers.  And this authoritative voice is because of their largely non-union member companies whose workers are required to give up any ownership interest in their work product as a condition of their employment in the “fair use” industry?

The Double Counting Double Cross

So who is in this “fair use industry”?  The Hill tells us that “[i]ndustries that rely on fair use exceptions include the news media and search engines such as Google.”

Ah yes.   Google, of course.  We expected to see Joe Camel get mentioned.  But who else?

In order to know that, one has to drill down a bit into the tables and appendices of the study.  The study breaks down the “fair use industries” into core and non-core businesses and each are listed in the tables.

I knew there was skullduggery afoot when I saw this sentence: “Portions of this report were prepared with the assistance of Professor Peter Jaszi of American University Washington College of Law.” (Buried in the fine print on page 2.)

Now who is Professor Jaszi?  He is, among other things, the Faculty Director of the Glushko-Samuelson Intellectual Property Clinic at American University.  (The mothership Glushko-Samuelson clinic at Berkeley just received $200,000 from Google in the controversial class action settlement of the Google Buzz litigation.   See “Google Hands Millions to ‘Independent’ Watchdogs“.)

Professor Jaszi’s unit at the Glushko-Samuelson clinic was reportedly unusually influential in the drafting of the 2006 orphan works report by the U.S. Copyright Office (and in implementing legislation that was itself heavily influenced by Google).  That report led to several years of failed legislative attempts to impose an orphan works regime that was almost unilaterally opposed by artists, particularly visual artists.  And just one other implication of Google involvement: during the seleciton of cy pres beneficiaries in the Google Buzz case, the Glushko-Sameulson group was referred to by EPIC in court filings as one of the proposed cy pres recipients who were either consultants or lobbyists for Google.  To which none of the recipients objected when given the chance to do so.

This passage from the APA website about the (now) failed 2007 orphan works legislation sums it up:

“Copyright, [Jaszi] wrote, is rooted in outdated concepts of ‘possessive individualism.’ The ‘romantic myth of authorship,’ he argued, is a vestige of the 18th and 19th centuries ‘in which entrepreneurial publishers…[and] entrepreneurial writers…played out their shared conviction that the “individual [is] essentially the proprietor of his own person or capacities — and thus of whatever can be made of them.’

Professor Jaszi has criticized the US for joining the international Berne Copyright Convention, calling it ‘an international agreement grounded in thoroughly Romantic assumptions about creativity.’ And he noted with disapproval:

‘The first Act of this preeminent ‘authors’ rights’ treaty in 1886 represented the culmination of a process which got underway in the mid-nineteenth-century with Victor Hugo’s vigorous campaign for the rights of European writers and artists. Other famous ‘authors’ rallied to the cause: Gerhard Joseph suggests that the manic energy with which Charles Dickens championed international copyright stemmed from the novelist’s private insecurities about his own ‘originality.’”*” (Emphasis mine)

So naturally, Professor Jaszi would be on the short list to work on the CCIA study: “Data for the key economic measures listed below—revenue, value added, payroll and employment—are segregated into core and non-core industries according to the structure developed by Professor Peter Jaszi, as described above and detailed in Appendix I.” (Study, at p. 19)

Naturally, all of the economists and business experts lack the special insights of an anti-copyright campaigner when it comes to providing the econometric basis for the study’s conclusions.

So let’s look at these “core” and “non-core” industries in Appendix I, which has a handy list of industry sectors and a cross-reference to the section of the Copyright Act—the U.S. Copyright Act—that qualifies them as a member of the “fair use industry.”

The first few listings are mostly companies that either make things that copy or that make the things that go into the things that copy.  Then we get to the first of the odd inclusions as a “core” sector of the “fair use industries”: Newspaper Publishers.  The Copyright Act code sections they rely on?  “102(a) (noncopyrightability of facts); 102(b) (idea/expression dichotomy); 107 (fair
use: criticism, comment, news reporting); 105 (no copyright in U.S. government works).”

I find this reference to newspapers peculiar.  Aside from the fact that many newspapers have sued to keep Google’s paws off of their copyrights, the noncopyrightability of facts and disclaimed copyright in U.S. government works has nothing to do with fair use.  Remember, fair use is a defense to copyright infringement, so if there’s no copyright, there’s no copyright infringement, so no defense to copyright infringement, so no fair use.  So why is that category even there?

Reliance on the idea/expression dichotomy is also not about fair use, it’s about whether an idea is subject to copyright protection (usually not until fixed in a tangible medium of expression).  So why is that in there at all?

So that’s just weird.  But it gets weirder still.

CCIA now includes in the mighty “fair use industries” all software publishers—be sure to let Tom Adams at Rosetta Stone know about that one.

And then we have the motion picture and video industries, the sound recording industries, bookstores, cable television networks (like Comedy Central maybe?), radio and television broadcasting, live event promoters, agents and managers.

Be sure to let Ari Emanuel know that he’s in a fair use industry.

Note: Songwriters and music publishers are not included at all.  Like I said, these guys have a fundamental lack of understanding about the industry they are trying to screw over.

My personal favorite is “independent artists, writers and performers” who are “independent (i.e., freelance) individuals primarily engaged in performing in artistic productions, in creating artistic and cultural works or productions,  or in providing technical expertise necessary for these productions. This industry also includes athletes and other celebrities exclusively engaged in  endorsing products and making speeches or public appearances for which they receive a fee.”

Derek Jeter—you’re in a fair use industry, brother.  Be sure to alert the MLB licensing folks.

So as you can see, CCIA is including in its “fair use industries” list the industries that its members cannibalize for supposedly fair use purposes.

What that means is that if you start with industries that should not be included at all and add to those industries Google and  similar companies that steal from us, you should not be surprised to learn that the “fair use industries” will always look like a bigger group than they really are.

And then you can get someone to stand up and talk about how important jobs are and that the Protect IP Act will kill jobs not protect jobs.

And how the non-union management of CCIA companies can tell everyone how the members of AFL-CIO, the Teamsters, the American Federation of Musicians, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the Directors Guild of America, the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees, the Screen Actors Guild, Nashville Songwriters Association International and the Songwriters Guild of America–you know, union thugs–do not speak for American workers.

It’s all just bunk–but here’s the fun part.  You know you’re winning when the other side starts lying.  Now if the press would just do a little fact checking….

And that makes three (governments): The United States opposes the Google Books Settlement

September 19, 2009 Comments off

More on this later, but the United States opposes the Google Books settlement. So kind it is almost sarcastic: “[I]t should not be a surprise that the parties did not anticipate all of the difficult legal issues such an
ambitious undertaking might raise….As presently drafted, the
Proposed Settlement does not meet the legal standards this Court must apply.”

Oopsie.

It actually is surprising that the parties did not “anticipate” the legal issues. It so surprising that it’s unbelievable. If you read/watch Lessig’s “Is Google Print Fair Use” which closely tracked the presentation by Google’s General Counsel, David Drummond and Professor Lessig at the New York Public Library way back when, it is clear–clear–that Google new exactly what they were doing. They just happened to get it wrong, or as Professor Nesson would say, no doubt, you have to know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em.

The problem is that these are not difficult issues. They are obvious. Missing obvious issues makes them sneaky, creepy, kind of nutty issues. And like so many events when people who sell themselves as being smart end up in a world of hurt or something, no one thinks that the smartest guys in the room could have gotten it sooooo wrong.

That’s because they couldn’t possibly have. As Register Peters said, they tried to make an “end run around copyright”.

So let’s see. Eldred, Grokster, Google Books. The triple crown. All huge, embarassing, seismic losses. How many more times does this guy have to screw up before someone cuts him loose?

Google Books, Unclaimed Property and Google as State

September 16, 2009 Comments off

Like the tar baby, the Google Books settlement agreement often raises more questions than it answers. Take something simple–unclaimed funds.

Some of you may recall the shock and awe of Elliot Spitzer’s attack on the music industry–that is the attack on the music industry relating to royalties that were earned but unpaid due to a loss of contact information–a few years ago. This was the episode when the former governor imposed extraordinary transaction costs on record companies in an effort to transfer unpaid royalties from the control of the record company where they were earned to the State of New York (where the funds are presumably applied to the then-current deficit until someone comes along to claim them).

Almost every state has an unclaimed property law–this is where bank accounts end up that are “abandoned”, utility deposits that are unclaimed etc. The state is supposed to keep this unclaimed property on its books forever.

Google, of course, never met a law it couldn’t twist to its advantage. So it is with unclaimed earnings:

Try Section 6.3–unclaimed funds from Google Books will be applied to costs and then distributed to the club. I mean the Books Registry.

Actually–this section is probably not strictly speaking legal. Each state of the United States and probably the governments of foreign countries could claim the “unclaimed funds” for its citizens. But legality is not something that troubles the “make me” culture of the corporate King Kong.

And how Google handles unclaimed funds is just a little footnote to the main event.

The creepy Leviathan of Mountain View just keeps getting creepier.

Strange–I don’t see any governors lining up to take shots at the very political Google.

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