Don’t Worry, Pirates, Google has Your Back

If you’re a fan of  Clash of the Titans you’re in for a real treat: two titanic lobbying groups are on a collision course.  Ground zero for the impact is the United States Congress. The issue is piracy.

Bills currently being written in House of Representatives committees are aimed at curbing search engines like Google and Yahoo that link to illegal file sharing and bitTorrent websites, and stopping payment facilitators like PayPal that enable transactions for unauthorized books, movies and music. (In fact, you can use Google to link to free versions of Clash of the Titans here, but we urge you to be very careful  clicking on links to free downloads as they may be phishing for your bank account information.)

Among the parties lobbying for passage of a tough law are the movie and music business, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the book industry (see Authors Guild President Scott Turow’s testimony before Congress). Even big unions like the AFL-CIO are pushing for passage, because piracy, particularly the offshore brand, steals American jobs.

On the other side of the issue are Yahoo, Google, Mozilla, the Tea Party and a lobby-full of freeists including, predictably, the Civil Liberties Union, all rallying under the banner of Down With Censorship. “Naturally,” writes Edward Wyatt in the New York Times (Lines Drawn on Antipiracy Bills), “the howls of protest have been loud and lavishly financed, not only from Silicon Valley companies but also from public-interest groups, free-speech advocates and even venture capital investors. They argue — in TV and newspaper ads — that the bills are so broad and heavy-handed that they threaten to close Web sites and broadband service providers and stifle free speech, while setting a bad example of American censorship.”

“Google itself,” Wyatt informs us,  “has hired at least 15 lobbying firms to fight the bills; Mozilla has included on its Firefox browser home page a link to a petition with the warning, ‘Congress is trying to censor the Internet.'” Texas representative Lamar Smith takes a different view of the Silicon Valley pressure groups: “They’ve made large profits by promoting rogue sites to U.S. consumers,” he contends.

Last May, when Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt declared in unequivocal terms that he opposed any effort to curtail Google’s right to link to piracy websites like Pirate Bay, we declared “Game Over.”  Now, with US lawmakers taking up the issue, there’s a glimmer of hope that the game is back on.

But it’s only a glimmer, and if our legislators are true to form, the Right-to-Information promoters will either kill the bill or water it down to the same kind of joke that is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. That piece of legislation is ostensibly designed to punish pirates, but the Silicon Mafia prevailed on the lawmakers to create a “Safe Harbor” provision that gives accused infringers a period of time in which to respond to accusations. Safe Harbor also puts the burden of proof on rights holders, causing them to go through  hoops of flame to prove they are the true owners of the stolen content.

We have been criticized for supporting tough antipiracy measures because they might lead to government censorship. The chances of the pendulum swinging from its current position to state censorship are so absurdly long they are not worth discussing.  Meanwhile, the pirates continue to screw legitimate copyright owners while the search engines hold down their arms and legs.

Richard Curtis

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6 Responses to Don’t Worry, Pirates, Google has Your Back

  1. Richard, you have my support. I see what’s happening in the States right now is what happened (and it’s still happening) in Spain, where I live, a year ago when they tried to pass a similar bill. The bill was approved at the beginning of this year, but it’s yet to be implemented.
    Those who opposed were the same as in your country and they used the same reasons. And because piracy is a huge issue in Spain (many, many people demand all digital content to be free of charge, and many are proud to download pirated material), their arguments caught on.
    The funny thing about piracy is that people want free content, but content made by professionals; they don’t realize that piracy only leads to amateurish contents.

  2. Alan says:

    “…swinging to state censorship are so absurdly long they are not worth discussing…”

    Not even wrong. Whatever the odds are, it’s already happened. The US DOJ is censoring websites internationally, off their own bat. In sealed courts. With appeals taking on the order of a year. And they’re already hitting false positives. [Allegedly, where there was allegedly “no probable cause” in the first place]. On the counter-factual grounds that seizing a domain name somehow prevents the destruction of evidence.

  3. Alan says:

    For example, consider what “market based solution” means in practice:

    “Sometime in 2009, Weebly was starting to gain momentum. We hadn’t yet achieved the scale we have today, but we were hosting a couple million websites — certainly a decent size by any measure. We registered weebly.com with GoDaddy back in early 2006, and hadn’t paid any attention to our registrar since then. After all, GoDaddy was a reputable registrar and a decent place to house your domain….”

    http://david.weebly.com/1/post/2011/12/godaddy-a-glimpse-of-the-internet-under-sopa.html

  4. I find this article odd considering that Piracy is definitely NOT the goal of both SOPA and the IP bill currently moving their way through Congress. In fact, Internet engineers [ya’ know the guys Al Gore consulted with when he created the interwebs?] have said that the bill is written with almost no understanding of the technology or the how the internet society operates.

    As a Pro Blogger and Web master, your point of view seems incongruous with the research offered by the Electronic Freedom Frontier, the scientists with knowledge, and the internet as a whole who are facing what is nothing less than a government takeover of the internet.

    I suggest you do further research before deciding that this anti SOPA movement is all about protecting “piracy”. And then do me a favor of updating the post so the real story gets out.

    You could always read my blog post on the subject to get a head start on that heavy research you obviously skipped.

  5. Micah says:

    You, Mr. Curtis, clearly have no idea what you’re talking about. SOPA opponents are not supporting piracy, and anyone that things that is, quite frankly, delusional and/or has no idea how the internet works.

    Google, et al., are not supporters of piracy. They’re supporters of something wonderful that has been available to everyone, and is now in danger of being restricted only to those the government and Hollywood deem worthy. Piracy and theft existed before the Internet and will continue to exist regardless of SOPA.

    The reason people are protesting SOPA so vehemently is because of the broad and vague terms of exactly what it can do. As written, it gives authority to Hollywood and the federal government to shut down any site that allegedly contains copyright information — without more than a “reasonable” investigation, without warning, and regardless of whether the site owner/maintainer is aware of what’s being posted. It’s like holding cell phone companies responsible for things people say or text on their networks. China does this. Iran does this. We as Americans pride ourselves on our freedoms, so why are we taking a page from their books?

    SOPA is about control. SOPA is about a few people trying to take something that doesn’t belong to them. SOPA is about destroying the First Amendment, Fair Use, Parody, and other forms of free expression.

    Besides, as wrong as stealing and piracy are, there are countless studies that prove piracy improves sales. Studies that have been ruthlessly squelched by Hollywood.

    Richard, you clearly don’t understand what you’re talking about. You think you do, but it is glaringly obvious you don’t know the whole story.

  6. Vincent Lowe (@agentv) says:

    Actually the matter is very simple.

    This is a battle that has been fought over and over in the software industry. The right answer for the “victims” of piracy is very simple.

    Provide authentic value.

    The screams of the entertainment industry are stimulated by a demise of their business model, not by pirates.

    Industry fat cats who’ve negotiated agreements to blackout sports events, to limit availability of their content to create a false increase in value (it’s rare because they MAKE it rare), and notoriously who resist technologies that allow artists to profit more directly from their audiences and popularity … those are the benefactors of this proposed legislation.

    In software, corporations have (through several iterations of this battle) wasted billions of dollars trying to “protect” their content though various means and have ultimately merely raised the cost of their legitimate customers. (I’ve observed this first-hand!)

    In software and in entertainment, if Billy Bob Blackhead uses your content illicitly for free in his basement, you actually haven’t lost a penny. He was never going to pay for it under any circumstances. The pain point is when a company steals the content and profits from it. That can be combatted readily with traditional approaches to enforcement of existing IP law. (In fact, when you find and stop institutional abuses of this nature, you can reclaim their assets, and they’ve ultimately become an unintentional marketing effort on your behalf.)

    The world is changing, and the players who think first of the value will be the winners. Those who sit around and wring their hands as they count up the pennies they’ve “lost” because Billy Bob and his pals are enjoying content for free will be miserable before and after they lose the battle.

    AND it looks like we’ll have to fend them off again and again until they ultimately find a new field to cultivate.

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