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Google reckons its anti-piracy efforts are working, while bragging about its YouTube pay-outs

By | Published on Thursday 8 November 2018


Google says that its ongoing efforts to remove and demote links to unlicensed content within its search engine are working, bragging that when the UK government assessed its achievements in this domain it “passed with flying colours”. That claim comes in the web giant’s latest piracy report, which also includes a number of timely and suitably bold statements about YouTube.

The latest edition of the ‘How Google Fights Piracy’ report reviews various initiatives that seek to remove and demote copyright infringing material – or links to copyright infringing material – on the tech firm’s various platforms. When it comes to Google Search, that means responding to takedown notices issued by rights owners, both by removing specific links to pirated material, and also demoting in its search rankings sites that are subject to repeated takedown requests.

The report mentions various government-led anti-piracy initiatives around the world that it is involved in, and in particular the government-instigated code of practice agreed in the UK between the music and movie industries on one side and Google and Microsoft’s Bing on the other. This code, Google says, puts its site demotion activity to the test.

Google writes of the scheme: “The heart of the code is a process for testing whether search engines have met ‘targets for reducing the visibility of infringing content in search results’. So far Google Search results have undergone four rounds of testing. Thanks to the demotion signal and our other efforts to surface legitimate results in response to media-related queries, Google Search has passed the test every time with flying colours – scoring considerably under the thresholds agreed with the [UK Intellectual Property Office]”.

The report also includes a lengthy section on all things YouTube. This is timely, of course, because the very final version of the European Copyright Directive is being agreed and Google still hopes to water down the safe harbour reform contained within that document. Article thirteen of the directive aims to increase the copyright liabilities of sites like YouTube.

It talks at length about YouTube’s Content ID rights management system, which it claims deals with 98% of copyright issues on the site. Google has now spent over $100 million building these tools, it adds, and over 9000 rights holders use them.

The music industry has been most vocal on the need for safe harbour reform, arguing that sites like YouTube exploit the protections the safe harbour provides to strong-arm record companies, music publishers and collecting societies into much less favourable licensing deals. So it’s no surprise that in the middle of its piracy report Google finds time to summarise all of the fab things YouTube does for the music community. TL;DR “shut up with all your moaning”.

“YouTube has partnerships with every major record label, as well as hundreds of collecting societies, independent labels and music publishers, to help share recorded music and music videos with fans on YouTube”, Google writes. “Through licensing agreements with our partners in the music industry as well as the tools we offer, like Content ID, creators and rightsholders are compensated when fans visit YouTube to watch music videos”

“True”, the music industry would argue, “but that compensation isn’t enough”.

“Again, shut up with all your moaning”, YouTube would counter, “and prepare yourself for some really big numbers”.

“From October 2017 to September 2018, YouTube paid out over $1.8 billion in ad revenue to the music industry”, the report claims, despite that brag not really being relevant in a report that’s meant to be about piracy.

“The music industry has earned over $6 billion in total ad revenue from YouTube”, it goes on, before name-checking the company’s new premium music service. “Combined with revenue from our growing subscription service, YouTube Music Premium, and money earned from monetising fan uploads, YouTube is contributing a meaningful and growing revenue stream for the industry while providing a powerful platform to engage with fans around the world”.

Lovely stuff. Despite the coded music business dissing in the middle of the report, earlier on Google commends the music industry’s efforts to build a plethora of compelling legal streaming services while also seeking to battle piracy. The implication is that Google wishes other copyright industries would do likewise. The contrast between that section and the YouTube chapter nicely illustrates the complexity of the relationship between big tech and the entertainment industry, ie they are simultaneously enthusiastic business partners and legislative foes.

“Easy access to legitimate music, videos and other media is one of the most effective ways to reduce infringement”, Google insists. “The music industry has demonstrated the efficacy of this approach by licensing a variety of music services, including free, advertising-supported streaming services (like YouTube Music, Spotify Free and Pandora), download stores (like Apple’s iTunes), and on-demand subscription products (like YouTube Music Premium and Spotify Premium). This ensures that media can reach the largest and most diverse array of fans at every price point”. And ain’t that the truth. Well done one and all.