During a speech on Wednesday, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt said that proposals from both the U.S. and British governments to block access to file-sharing websites would threaten freedom of speech. Google, he said, is opposed to such measures and will fight them, presumably in court, if necessary.
There can be little doubt that when it comes to hot tools for dealing with sites allegedly infringing the copyrights of the music and movie industries, site blocking and web filtering is absolutely in fashion this year.
The United States (with its PROTECT IP bill) and the United Kingdom (with its Digital Economy Act), are both preparing what they believe could be their best chance at a silver bullet approach to piracy – the complete blocking of ‘infringing’ domains.
Yesterday though, they discovered that apart from the usual legislative stumbling blocks, an Internet giant intends to hinder their progress.
Google is set to come out in opposition of cumbersome DNS-style blocking, perhaps giving a boost to embattled sites like The Pirate Bay and Newzbin2. These sites are at the very top of the domain-blocking wishlists of both the U.S. and UK, but neither of them are in ideal positions to mount legal challenges of their own.
Speaking after this keynote speech at Google’s Big Tent conference in London, The Guardian reports Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt as voicing clear opposition to web censorship.
“If there is a law that requires DNSs [domain name systems, the protocol that allows users to connect to websites] to do X and it’s passed by both houses of congress and signed by the president of the United States and we disagree with it then we would still fight it,” Schmidt said.
“If it’s a request the answer is we wouldn’t do it, if it’s a discussion we wouldn’t do it,” he added.
Schimdt went on to compare the notion of website blocking with methods used by the Chinese to censor the Internet, cautioning that when those further east see that the west aren’t opposed to censorship when it comes to achieving their particular aims, it might only encourage further crackdowns.
“I would be very, very careful if I were a government about arbitrarily [implementing] simple solutions to complex problems,” Schmidt said. “So, ‘let’s whack off the DNS’. Okay, that seems like an appealing solution but it sets a very bad precedent because now another country will say ‘I don’t like free speech so I’ll whack off all those DNSs’ – that country would be China.”
Google has a very much push-pull relationship with the content industries when it comes to infringement and potential ways of stopping it.
On the one hand Google has been helping to stop its Adsense platform being utilized by ‘pirate’ sites and has helped to partially filter some of its search features to remove ‘infringing’ suggestions. On the other it has been both help and hindrance to Hollywood by getting involved in their ongoing dispute with BitTorrent indexer isoHunt.
Yet when Google, a massively powerful organization which seems to be able to make most things turn to gold on the web, tried to reach licensing agreements with the music labels for its music locker service, it came away frustrated.
The message here is that Google is not on the side of the entertainment industries, nor on the side of the pirates. Like all companies with that all-important bottom line, it will do whatever suits its best interests. Time will tell what they are.