A few times each year the RIAA looks back on proceeding months and tries to assess whether its anti-piracy actions are bearing fruit.
In more recent times the public face of these assessments have included appraisals of companies that the recording industry feels should be helping to solve the problem. Time and again the main focus has fallen on Google, along with a recurring report card stating “can do better”. While softer in tone, today’s announcement is not much different.
Brad Buckles, RIAA executive vice president of anti-piracy, begins with a short summary of recent history. A year ago the RIAA stepped up its efforts to remove links to infringing content indexed by search engines. They have done so in increasing numbers and this week reached a magic number – 20 million URL takedowns on Google alone. A similar number have been sent to underlying sites too, making a total just shy of 40 million URLs. It’s a losing battle.
“Every day produces more results and there is no end in sight. We are using a bucket to deal with an ocean of illegal downloading,” Buckles complains.
According to the RIAA executive the problem is compounded by what he describes as a “controversial interpretation” by search engines who insist that DMCA takedown notices are directed at specific links of infringing content. This, Buckles says, leads to a situation where content is simply reposted by sites as quickly as it’s removed.
The RIAA anti-piracy boss says that while he accepts that search engines have no way of knowing whether links are infringing or not the first or second time around, after receiving “a thousand notices for the same song on the same site” they should have received the message loud and clear.
“Isn’t it simply logical and fair at some point to conclude that such links are infringing without requiring content owners to keep expending time and resources to have the link taken down?” he questions. Of course, this suggestion – that search engines should begin to act pro-actively after a point – passes the buck and potential blame onto the shoulders of third parties that also have better things to do.
One of those third parties, Google, received a more considered appraisal today. The RIAA has publicly chastised and patronized the search engine on a number of previous occasions, but today the music group applauded the search engine for its efforts so far. Nevertheless, in common with all previous appraisals, the RIAA concludes that Google must still do better.
But the real problem, the RIAA explains, lies with the system. Far too much time is being spent taking down illicit content which is detracting from music making. The blame for that can be laid squarely at the door of the DMCA.
“As the Congressional review of the DMCA gets underway, there should be a strong focus on what notice and takedown was supposed to accomplish. The DMCA was intended to define the way forward for technology firms and content creators alike, but some aspects of it no longer work,” says Buckles.
“How could we expect it to? It was passed before Google even existed, or the iPod, or peer-to-peer file-sharing or slick websites offering free mp3 downloads. It was after the DMCA that Napster, and Grokster and Limewire and Grooveshark and Megaupload, to name just a few, came on the scene. In particular, it’s time to rethink the notice and takedown provisions of the DMCA.”
In parallel the RIAA feels that its anti-piracy burden should be lightened by other Internet companies helping out the recording industry. ISPs, payment processors and advertisers all have a part to play and voluntary initiatives already in place are a sign of things moving in the right direction. However, if real progress is to be made, the group says, those voluntary agreements must have teeth.
“We’ve seen what good can happen when there is cooperation among Internet players to achieve the mutually beneficial goal of preventing copyright theft while encouraging innovation. We hope others will follow suit. Otherwise, the next 20 million takedowns will be no more effective than the first and present a sad reality for the millions of content creators that help drive American culture,” Buckles concludes.
At the start of the recording industry’s Google takedown blitz many people predicted that the problem would not be solved by taking down search engine results; 20 million notices later they have been proven right. Another 20 million won’t solve the problem either. It can only be solved by innovation. Perhaps spending more time on that is the solution.