Wherever Google has a presence, rightsholders are around to accuse the search giant of not doing enough to deal with piracy.
Over the past several years, the company has been attacked by both the music and movie industries but despite overtures from Google, criticism still floods in.
In Australia, things are definitely heating up. Village Roadshow, one of the nation’s foremost movie companies, has been an extremely vocal Google critic since 2015 but now its co-chief, the outspoken Graham Burke, seems to want to take things to the next level.
As part of yet another broadside against Google, Burke has for the second time in a month accused Google of playing a large part in online digital crime.
“My view is they are complicit and they are facilitating crime,” Burke said, adding that if Google wants to sue him over his comments, they’re very welcome to do so.
It’s highly unlikely that Google will take the bait. Burke’s attempt at pushing the issue further into the spotlight will have been spotted a mile off but in any event, legal battles with Google aren’t really something that Burke wants to get involved in.
Australia is currently in the midst of a consultation process for the Copyright Amendment (Service Providers) Bill 2017 which would extend the country’s safe harbor provisions to a broader range of service providers including educational institutions, libraries, archives, key cultural institutions and organizations assisting people with disabilities.
For its part, Village Roadshow is extremely concerned that these provisions may be extended to other providers – specifically Google – who might then use expanded safe harbor to deflect more liability in respect of piracy.
“Village Roadshow….urges that there be no further amendments to safe harbor and in particular there is no advantage to Australia in extending safe harbor to Google,” Burke wrote in his company’s recent submission to the government.
“It is very unlikely given their size and power that as content owners we would ever sue them but if we don’t have that right then we stand naked. Most importantly if Google do the right thing by Australia on the question of piracy then there will be no issues. However, they are very far from this position and demonstrably are facilitating crime.”
Accusations of crime facilitation are nothing new for Google, with rightsholders in the US and Europe having accused the company of the same a number of times over the years. In response, Google always insists that it abides by relevant laws and actually goes much further in tackling piracy than legislation currently requires.
On the safe harbor front, Google begins by saying that not expanding provisions to service providers will have a seriously detrimental effect on business development in the region.
“[Excluding] online service providers falls far short of a balanced, pro-innovation environment for Australia. Further, it takes Australia out of step with other digital economies by creating regulatory uncertainty for [venture capital] investment and startup/entrepreneurial success,” Google’s submission reads.
“[T]he Draft Bill’s narrow safe harbor scheme places Australian-based startups and online service providers — including individual bloggers, websites, small startups, video-hosting services, enterprise cloud companies, auction sites, online marketplaces, hosting providers for real-estate listings, photo hosting services, search engines, review sites, and online platforms —in a disadvantaged position compared with global startups in countries that have strong safe harbor frameworks, such as the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and other EU countries.
“Under the new scheme, Australian-based startups and service providers, unlike their international counterparts, will not receive clear and consistent legal protection when they respond to complaints from rightsholders about alleged instances of online infringement by third-party users on their services,” Google notes.
Interestingly, Google then delivers what appears to be a loosely veiled threat.
One of the key anti-piracy strategies touted by the mainstream entertainment companies is collaboration between rightsholders and service providers, including the latter providing voluntary tools to police infringement online. Google says that if service providers are given a raw deal on safe harbor, the extent of future cooperation may be at risk.
“If Australian-based service providers are carved out of the new safe harbor regime post-reform, they will operate from a lower incentive to build and test new voluntary tools to combat online piracy, potentially reducing their contributions to innovation in best practices in both Australia and international markets,” the company warns.
But while Village Roadshow argue against safe harbors and warn that piracy could kill the movie industry, it is quietly optimistic that the tide is turning.
In a presentation to investors last week, the company said that reducing piracy would have “only an upside” for its business but also added that new research indicates that “piracy growth [is] getting arrested.” As a result, the company says that it will build on the notion that “74% of people see piracy as ‘wrong/theft’” and will call on Australians to do the right thing.
In the meantime, the pressure on Google will continue but lawsuits – in either direction – won’t provide an answer.
Village Roadshow’s submission can be found here, Google’s here (pdf).