Google Executive, Hollywood Producer Spar Over Piracy at Copyright Hearing

Google Exec, Hollywood Producer Spar Over

The House Judiciary Committee took its ongoing copyright review to Los Angeles this week, and even though entertainment figures dominated the conversation, there was a moment that underscored the ongoing friction between Hollywood and Silicon Valley, and in particular the role of Google.

Among those giving input to the committee was Film Colony founder Richard Gladstein, who cited search engines as “aiding and abetting” criminal piracy sites by placing them atop search results. As an example, he said that before the hearing he entered “Watch ‘The Cider House Rules'” into his phone, the the first three results that came up were illegal sites.

Also at the hearing was Fred von Lohmann, Google’s legal director for copyright. “Why couldn’t we find a way, in all of your wonderful genius, to prevent being directed to illegal activity,” Gladstein said at Tuesday’s hearing at UCLA. He cited the search giant’s ability to block such things as child porn sites, and noted that such illegal activity “takes money out of the pockets of grips and gaffers … and all those people on a movie who are not actors.”

“We are not in a position to decide what is legal and what is illegal online,” Von Lohmann responded.

Then Gladstein asked, “Is it legal or illegal to download a movie that you don’t own?”

Von Lohmann answered, “I agree. Downloading a movie, in order to watch it without paying for it, is infringing. That is not the problem. The problem is when you have over a trillion websites, you have hundreds of thousands of film titles, millions of song titles, not just in English but every language around the world … as a search engine there is no magic way for us to know in advance what is legal and what is illegal online. We rely on copyright owners to inform us.”

He noted that Google has been demoting sites based on the number of takedown notices they receive from copyright owners. He also said that such sites don’t pop up when users simply put in the name of the film title without the word “watch” before it.

“The good news is if you look at Google Trends, you will see [that you can] compare the ‘watch film title’ query to the actual film title query. I guarantee you that nobody is searching for the ‘watch film title’ query. What people search for is the name of the film.”

House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has been in the midst of a review of the Copyright Act, and, as part of a traveling “listening tour,” has held 20 hearings on whether its provisions still work in the digital age. On Monday, the committee held a hearing in Silicon Valley.

At points, Goodlatte often pressed those who spoke to offer their ideas on what needed to change.

Others who spoke included Susan Cleary, general counsel of the Independent Film and Television Alliance, who recommended legislation to make large-scale illegal streaming a felony. She also called for what she characterized as “notice and takedown and staydown,” or measures to ensure that once pirated material is blocked it doesn’t quickly pop up again on some new site.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act includes a safe harbor provision that shields websites from liability for infringing content users post on their site as long as they promptly remove it upon getting a takedown notice from the copyright owners. But content creators long have complained that pirated material often quickly pops up elsewhere. The DGA’s Kathy Garmezy said they “would very much welcome a dialog” around the notice-and-takedown system.

Von Lohmann, however, said that it is “not an easy technical solution.” YouTube’s Content ID system identifies infringing content that has been posted, but it is via digital fingerprint from video material supplied by copyright holders.

“It is not one size fits all technology,” Von Lohmann said. “Content ID cannot clean up the web. It cannot identify content that is just a bunch of HTML on a website.”

Another major issue is over music licensing, as a major battle brews between streaming services who content that they are paying too much to songwriters and artists and publishers who say they are getting paid too little.

Terry Fahy, vice president of radio broadcaster Salem Los Angeles, said that “streaming rates are too high. It’s inhibiting radio to invest in streaming programming.”

“It is clearly not a win for the public as far as audio choices go,” he said.

But Goodlatte asked if there was a “potential deal here,” given that broadcasters pay nothing to performers when they play their songs over the air.

“The difference with radio as compared to any other audio service is that we are completely free, and also provide a uniquely local focus that a lot of other mediums do not do,” Fahy responded.

“But isn’t Pandora completely free?” Goodlatte then asked.

“No. because you have to pay for Internet access and data rate,” Fahy answered.

“I got to buy a radio, and if I want to listen on satellite radio, I have got to pay for that service,” Goodlatte said.

Dina LaPolt, attorney adviser to Songwriters of North America and representative for Steven Tyler, urged the committee to look at changes to the rates for songwriters, which she called “among the most vulnerable group in the business because they don’t have their celebrities to trade on.” Among other things, royalties for songwriters are largely governed by a consent decree between the Department of Justice and BMI and ASCAP, although it is currently under review.

While Goodlatte’s copyright review may lead to substantial changes to the law, it is a process expected to take years. In the meantime, some of those at the hearing said that some issues would have to be resolved via voluntary agreements.

“If we are all going to work together to move forward to the future, we have to stop all the fighting,” LaPolt said. “We have to start making deals. We have to start talking to each other. We have to start listening to each other. Because I believe that everybody here has their own opinion. But their own opinion, very strong opinions, are great, but they are not making deals.”

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 4

Leave a Reply


Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. leeuniverse says:

    When are they going to understand that 99.9% of those who “share warez” would NEVER be “buying” the products in the first place. Further, if they really like something, and they have the money, the WILL buy it most of the time. Especially in the case of software, they become experts, thus future users who will buy. Also, sharing is “free advertising”. Sharing is the Modern Digital Age “Library”…… They are not losing millions as they believe, not even close, any more than Author’s used to claim Library’s would put them out of business. They don’t, and didn’t.

    Now, in the case actual “Piracy” in which people are making money off of digital products, that’s different, and frankly also their own fault. They don’t provide their products at a reasonable price in like Asia so people can afford them. They charge the same as they charge in wealthy country’s. Thus, it’s no surprise that Pirates create their own Software and otherwise releases, websites, etc.

    Bottom line, it’s a power play, ignorance, and simply lying to claim a company is losing millions or otherwise from “sharing warez”. If people have the money, and they really need something, they WILL BUY IT. They won’t waste time with warez. I’ve been involved in this community and poor for 17 years doing this. 1000’s of software, music, movies, tv shows etc. I’ve downloaded, watched and used, and yet not a single bit of it did I have the money to get, save a couple of items in which I did have the money and wanted/needed. It’s my Library…. I’m no more a “thief” than anyone that uses a normal library is a theif. State sactioned doesn’t change the point, it’s a distinction without a difference. The “archaic” nature of the system doesn’t change what is now the moral and reasonable norm. Where there is not “actual loss” there is no crime.

    • aa cg says:

      No ‘actual loss’? Please get an education. Learn the definition of intellectual property. Unless you are 12, in which case, STAY IN SCHOOL. If you are an adult, you should be ashamed of yourself. Yes, you most certainly are a thief.

  2. Steve Merola says:

    Google’s rep freely admits that they are incapable of making sure their business is run legally. Why is an illegal business even allowed to exist in the first place? Google is actually what criminals call a “fence”. An enabler to crime who in turn profits from it themselves.

  3. FarePlay says:

    “We are not in a position to decide what is legal and what is illegal online,” (Google’s Copyright Counsel) Von Lohmann responded

    This statement sums up the need to amend Section 512 by adding a ‘stay down’ provision. Without it or another solution our legal system has no metric to evaluate whether a website is infringing and in violation of the law.

    While Google could choose to be a good citizen, they consistently choose to refrain from blocking ‘alleged’ pirate sites, like the well known Pirate Bay.

More Biz News from Variety