Monday, November 18, 2013

Piracy persists on music, video websites

(Photo: Courtesy Humming House via The Tennessean)
Nate Rau/The Tennessean/USA Today

When Nashville band Humming House started releasing new music two years ago, the first place they turned was YouTube, where they posted videos that would successfully jump-start their career.

As frontman Justin Wade Tam put it: "In this day, your storefront is your online presence. I think it really branded us very well as a band to come out having those quality pieces of video."

Just weeks after Humming House used YouTube, owned by Google, to propel themselves forward, the music industry was taking aim at the California tech behemoth for another reason: music piracy. Industry-backed legislation to enable the take down of sites that post copyright-protected material without permission worked its way through Congress in early 2012.

Ultimately the federal legislation failed after Google, Wikipedia and other popular websites criticized the legislation as censoring free speech.

Still, two years later, the sting from that bitter fight still lingers and whispers persist that more federal legislation could be coming in 2014.

But in Nashville, Google and the local tech community have taken baby steps in recent months to reach out to Music Row, including making the city one of its seven tech hubs. Google representatives hosted a Google for Creators workshop to teach songwriters, artists and industry professionals how to use YouTube and the search engine to maximize their brand and monetize their content.

"Our teams at YouTube and Google Play are particularly excited about our ongoing partnerships with the music industry in Nashville, one of the most creative cities in America, to help empower these artists online," said Vivien Lewit, director of content partnerships for YouTube.

Google supporters say it behooves the music industry to focus on the benefits the company can offer creators.

But while music industry leaders largely concede that Google and YouTube can benefit artists, they also say the company's search engine function makes pirated music readily available.

In September, the Motion Picture Association of America released a scathing reportthat showed search engines influenced 20% of the sessions in which consumers accessed television or film content that had been stolen or copied over a three-year period.

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., bluntly challenged search engines in a statement released with the MPAA report.

"The question search engines need to answer is this: do they want to be the digital highways for legitimate information, entertainment and education, or do they want to be the getaway car for stolen content and mass exploitation of private property?" Blackburn asked.

Shortly after the MPAA report, Google released its own report, "How Google Fights Piracy," which touted its efforts to remove pirated material. In 2012, copyright owners and their agents submitted more than 57 million Web pages for removal, according to the Google report.

The company has three principles for combating piracy: creating better legitimate alternatives to pirated music, rooting out rogue sites from Google's online advertising payment services and streamlining the copyright removal process.

In response to Google's report, the Recording Industry Association of America, a nonprofit trade organization that represents the nation's record labels, said Google's efforts to demote rogue sites so they don't display high in a search result for a particular artist have fallen short.

The RIAA wants Google to follow through on its 2012 vow to alter its formula so that legitimate music sites are promoted and the ones with pirated materials are demoted.

"Even in the new Google report from September, they reiterate their policy and intention to demote certain sites based on the number of copyright notices they get," said RIAA Senior Vice President Mitch Glazier. "The problem is there's no evidence they're actually demoting these sites. So either they're following their policy and changing their algorithm, but it's just not working. Or they're not fully implementing the policy they have."

RIAA has sent more than 35 million notices for Google to take down sites that post pirated music in 2013 alone, the organization said.

In advance of a critical Dec. 12 meeting with the U.S. Department of Commerce's Patent and Trademark Office regarding a green paper on copyright policy by President Barack Obama's administration, RIAA said simple Google searches for pop star Katy Perry's song "Roar" yield pirated music.

RIAA argues that the current takedown system isn't working.

"Locking both creators and intermediaries into an old, ineffective system squelches innovation and stunts the growth of new Internet services that consumers demand, while also limiting the ability to properly address the potential abuse that the current system may inadvertently incentivize," its filing states.

Blackburn said Google should be applauded for its efforts to fight piracy and to reach out to the Nashville music industry, but she said piracy remains a serious problem, one that may still need a legislative solution.

"There's still far too much of it," she said. "It's theft and it has to be recognized as theft. It is taking money out of the pockets of creators and that is wrong."

By the numbers

• The Recording Industry Association of America has sent 35 million takedown notices to Google in 2013 to remove pirated music.

• In 2012, Google removed 57 million sites that had claims of pirated music, films or television shows.

• In the past 12 years, nine of 10 songwriters have given up the profession or found additional work, according to Nashville Songwriters Association International.

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