Zombie Jamboree – Google “Helps” Fight Piracy
You know the deal. Kill one zombie while ten others are infecting hundreds more who in turn infect thousands until, well, you’re basically toast. Not only because it’s Halloween but because I am so damn bored with the Whack-a-Mole simile to describe anti-piracy efforts, I’m switching to zombie fighting. Even TorrentFreak uses the word resurrect in the title of this article to describe how one particular torrent site, FileSoup, is using Google’s database of takedown notices to re-establish live links to infringing material. It’s a bit confusing for the non-techie (including me), and I won’t do a better job summarizing the mechanics than the TF article, but here’s the big picture as I understand it:
Google receives about 20 million requests per month from rights holders to remove links to infringing URLs. I suspect those are requests from major rights holders like studios and does not include independent rights holders who don’t have the resources to send out notices in significant volume. Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of takedown requests are legitimate and the DMCA is nearly useless for rights holders, Google and its PR machine continue to promote a general message that DMCA takedown requests are, by default, an attack on free expression. To help reinforce this idea, the company dons a populist costume, claiming to be pro-transparency, and files all takedown requests with Chilling Effects Clearing House and produces a Transparency Report detailing the notices it receives. With the aid of so-called digital rights activists at The Berkman Center and the EFF, a publicly available database like Chilling Effects becomes a two-headed monster for both rights holders and the public.
First, as stated in an earlier post, the name and positioning of Chilling Effects is a pretty sleazy PR move designed to sustain that message that all takedown requests inherently violate free speech; and then, as a reporting “service,” these databases provide an efficient resource for prospective infringers to bring dead links back to life with relatively basic coding skills. To quote TorrentFreak quoting someone from FileSoup, “We created a technology that crawls DMCA notices and resurrects the torrent webpage under a different URL so it can appear in search results again. It was rather complicated to sharpen it, but eventually it works pretty well. We will use it on FileSoup.com for all the websites we proxy.”
Recently, Google rewrote its search algorithms to demote major pirate sites in the results queue, and this is a good thing. Despite having dragged their feet for years on taking such action and insisting search had no influence on pirate traffic, these demoted positions do seem to have had a mitigating effect already. Of course, while giving a fist bump to rights holders’ with one hand, Google is using the other hand to feed links that have been lawfully removed by DMCA notice into a database that feeds this URL reassignment process to infringe exactly the same material against which Google can still sell advertising.
And as bad as that is, I am even more concerned with the ideological agenda behind the more insidious message conveyed by an initiative like Chilling Effects that IP rights (or any other rights) infringe speech just because it’s the Internet. It is not wild speculation to say that the ultra-libertarian ideology of Silicon Valley’s elite envisions a future that looks and sounds populist and egalitarian for now, but that can become a real zombie apocalypse in just a few years. In this zombie apocalypse story, everyone and everything is wired, and we’re all smiling at the free stuff on our devices and the conveniences brought to us by the Internet of things, and nobody notices that we’ve become commodities ourselves.
Like a good horror movie, it begins subtly with consistent behaviors among the tech industry elite encroaching on various civil liberties. Google does all it can to play fast and loose with piracy, and only so many people really care because they figure “it only affects big media conglomerates.” Years later, Reddit balks at taking down stolen nude celebrity photos, and a few more people care about that because they begin to see this kind of rights infringement hits a little closer to home; those are people not companies. Meanwhile, Google scans Gmail, and Facebook turns our connections, comments, and apparent interests into a commodity that can be traded like pork belly futures. Then, Amazon exerts pressure on suppliers and labor with a monopolistic power we haven’t seen since John D. Rockefeller. And because the pattern is asymmetrical and subtle, just like a zombie movie, we overlooked patient zero, which in this story was a song, illegally commoditized by a “file-sharing service” back in the early 90s.
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