Judging by the presentation Google’s president of southern and eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa did at last week’s CISAC (the International Confederation of Authors and Composers Societies) conference in Bratislava, the company’s preferred weapon of defence is denial.
Starting with an announcement that may have come as a surprise to many of the collecting societies, Carlo D’Asaro Biondo declared:
“We are clearly a company that fights piracy on the internet. I don’t think I could’ve said that five years ago, when we were still a young company.”
Expanding on how the internet giant conducts this fight, Biondo pointed to how Google tries to monetise “content”. In what was perhaps a nod to the privacy issues the company has come across in several European countries (it recently had to pay a $189,225 — a sum equal to the revenue the company made every two minutes last year — for invading the privacy of Germany’s citizens via its Street View project), he continued:
“Knowing what people do and where they go increases the value of the advertising. We can’t afford not to make use of the data – fighting generic use of data is a non-starter.”
Biondo explained that Google doesn’t put advertising in front of user-generated content (UGC) that isn’t professional, as advertisers don’t want their products associated with such content.
This prompted me to ask: if Google can make sure these ads don’t appear on “unprofessional” content, how come its AdSense and Double Click networks serve plenty of ads on pirate sites that peddle unlicensed content?
His response was to flatly deny that they did. When I told him that there were thousands of examples of this that could be accessed right at this moment, as illustrated by the USC Annenberg Brand Supported Piracy Report, Biondo simply responded: “no, there’s not“.
He finally relented that if, by any chance, some of these ads had “mistakenly” found their way onto such websites, I should email him about it. Then he handed me his card, concluding: “Mistakes don’t mean ill intentions.”
Some audience members that represented smaller European collecting societies complained that when local labels uploaded their music, YouTube deemed it to be UGC and so prevented them from monetising it. “Your partner program is poorly implemented – you need people on the ground that understand the market,” said one of them.
Biondo responded: “We’re not that numerous around Europe, but that’s no excuse – here’s my card, contact me.”
The significant number of lobbyists Google has stationed around Europe, in particular in Brussels, suggests that it may not be for the lack of resources that there isn’t enough staff to deal with local YouTube issues.
A number of eastern European societies wondered when YouTube would launch a local version in their countries so that they could monetise local content through advertising. Biondo responded that getting all the licenses in place was complicated and takes time. “We’re pushed to harmonise by the EU, though we prefer not to. When we’ve got agreements in place we localise.”
This statement prompted Croatian Nenad Marcec, the chair of CISAC’s European committee, to intervene: “In Croatia, music licensing is centralised – there’s only one point of licensing – yet when we contact YouTube they tell us they don’t need to sign agreements.”
Like everyone else that had questioned the Google executive’s claims, Marcec was handed a business card and told to contact him. As he left the conference, he smiled despondently and reflected: “I’ve got a collection now – this is the third business card I’ve received from him.”