Google profits from piracy?

For a while now I’ve been arguing that the digitization of content is leading to the devaluation of content. This has certainly affected the news industry (see dying newspapers and magazines) and the music industry (see the loss of revenue and the general sense that music is free.) I’ve long felt the movie industry will become a partial victim to this trend; the main thing sparing it right now is that files of burned movies are still pretty big in terms of data and thus unwieldy to upload/download etc.

That said I’ve been noticing a lot of pirated movies over at Youtube. I’ve even been passing some evenings checking them out; there’s a lot of great classic and independent horror flicks there. (I wrote about some of them here.)

The ethical problem is, of course, that these movies are pirated and the people who produced and contributed to the films see not one dime from their films being shown on Youtube. I am fortunately free of ethics but other folks may be bothered by this. You often find these “information should be free” types tying pretzels of logic to defend piracy.

One thing that I am struck by is the fact that Google—the owner of Youtube—is selling advertisements that run before the movies. So, not only are they looking the other way to movie piracy, they are profiting from it. I was a little curious about this state of affairs and tracked down this HuffPo article which examines it. As you might surmise, Google is protected because they are not legally responsible for what their users upload (which, I admit, is probably a fair position.) Nonetheless, this development clearly does not encourage the production of cinema, especially independent cinema.

The article states…

…according to judgments in the YouTube v Viacom case, the DMCA provides YouTube with protection against copyright infringements carried out by its users. YouTube is not under an obligation to ensure that the service it provides complies with copyright law. Instead, copyright owners must report infringement to YouTube. So rather than YouTube creating a clever piece of software, or employing a small team of compliance officers, studios and producers all over the world have to duplicate effort and cost to monitor whether their titles are being uploaded. It doesn’t look like this inefficient method of policing copyright is going to change any time soon, but things get really interesting when one looks at the money that is being made from illegal uploads. YouTube may not have a responsibility to ensure that the content it publishes complies with the law, but does that entitle it to derive revenue from illegally uploaded content?

Of related interest: this article alleging Google, Yahoo and Bing knowingly sell ads to spammers. So much for “do no evil.” But what are we going to do about it? Stop using Google? Of course not. We are their bitches.

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