A Pirate Asks a Google Executive, ‘Why Is It So Easy to Steal Music from You?’

  • Save

The dialogue occurred at MIDEM, the long-running music industry event in France that is now rumored to be ending (for good).  Many attendees are blaming companies like Google for that result.

Panel Name: “Fueled by Video Success”

Audience Question Period.

Moderator Andrea Leonelli (Digital Music Trends): I think we have time for one or two questions. If there’s anything… sure.  Yes —

Audience Member #1: [Inaudible]

Moderator: There’s a mic?

Audience Member #1: Question for Tom.  If you go on Google (and Google owns YouTube), you’ll find that YouTube is setting their terms and conditions in a very strict manner.  So, for example, if you buy views, they have algorithms that will throw you off, and that kind of thing.

But if you go on Google, and simply put “youtube.mp3,” the top result is a website you can put in any url and take a track straight away.

“I just wonder what plans in the future Google has in place to just get rid of that, because you seem to be able to change the rankings of websites daily, but you can’t stop showing sites that allow free downloads.”

[audience applause, ‘fantastic…’]

Tom Pickett, VP, YouTube Content, Google: Yes, so, certainly, on the Google search side, we’re constantly trying to rank appropriately.  What Google Search is, is… a reflection of what’s out there on the web.  And when, when sites go down, new ones — I think what you find in this phenomenon is some sites go down, new ones come up, and so it’s a game of whack-a-mole, and —

Audience Member #1: — I’d just like to point out that I’ve been downloading from this website for three or fours or five years now.  So, this one’s  been around for a long time.

[smattering of applause]

Jordan Berliant (Partner & Head of Music Management, The Collective Music Group) [laughing]: You know you’ve made it when you start getting heckled.

[Panelists start laughing]

Moderator [smiling]: I don’t think there’s a comment on that one.

Audience Member #2:  I’m going to help this guy out here.  There’s talk that this is the last MIDEM.  Okay, that’s how serious this is.  And you’re going to laugh off that fact that your own company makes it possible for people to steal our music.  There’s a YouTube downloader that you do nothing about, with your own logo on it.  


Please, speak!  You are at a music festival, potentially the last music festival of its type.  Right, you know what’s happening, so please talk to us and tell us you’re really going to do about it.

Pickett [subdued]: Sure, I’ll talk more about the YouTube side, but we, we — back to your viewpoint, there are plenty of sites out there that offer views, some of them are legit, some of them are not legit.  And frankly it’s actually hard to tell, as a, as a user, as a creator.  And we are investing a lot — you know the big thing on YouTube is the viewcount is the currency, and we take that very seriously.  And so we’re getting better and better over time about detecting bad views, bad actors out there, and we’re doing everything we can to get rid of them or discount their views on YouTube.

Moderator: I’ll just give Geoff the last comment, then we —

Geoff Taylor, Chief Executive, BPI: — I’ve got a lot of sympathy for what is being said on the floor, because we’ve been asking YouTube to deal with these stream ripping applications for many, many years.  And the point is that YouTube is supposed to be an ad-funded streaming service, not a free download service.

[audience applause]

— and [raising voice] I don’t think it’s good for YouTube’s business model that those sites should steal and free-ride on what YouTube is offering, and we can’t understand why it’s taken so long for Google and YouTube to do something about this.  And it’s very similar to the problems we’re having with Google Search, whereas people know that the BPI sent 50 million notices to Google in the last year alone, to remove YOUR music [motioning to audience], which is being indexed illegally on Google’s search engine.

“And despite the fact that we’ve sent 50 million notices, and 2 million of those are to a particular site, it still comes top of search, in search results.”

So the point is that when you know that something is illegal, you surely have the responsibility to take that knowledge into account, and to do something with your search rankings which gives the legal sites a chance to put themselves in front of consumers, instead of the pirate sites.  And I think if we’re going to have a really productive partnership, then Google has a responsibility to do something about that.

[no response from Google]

[panel ends]

33 Responses

    • Will Buckley

      Three and a half years later and Google / YouTube are still using a 19 year old loophole in the DMCA to cheat copyright holders.

      Why the courts have been unable, until just recently in Europe with a judgement against Pirate Bay, to use red flag knowledge against corporate infringers like YouTube is mystifying.

      Perhaps the time has come to file a $50B class action legal action against YouTube and their owners, Google. That woul get everybody’s attention.

  1. Anonymous

    Google got raped so hard. I bet the Google employee was pissing his pants.

  2. female

    (please Anonymous and everyone else, can we not use such offensive rape analogies in our comments? thank you)

      • lroosemusic

        Hey society says its okay to joke about men getting raped (prison rape references abound in sitcoms, movies, late night talk, etc.) but women getting raped is NOT OKAY and NOT FUNNY.

        Got it?


        • Jaded Industry Dude

          How about we just don’t use the words rape, gay and retard out of context altogether instead and act like adults?

          • blah blah

            ok retard…. run and frolic in your safe space

  3. JTVDigital

    Yeah, I attended some of these panels were YouTube guys were attacked.
    Fair enough, that’s part of the game, but at some point it is becoming ridiculous to always attack them.
    Is this really their responsibility to fight piracy?
    I mean, they are not content owners, they are a search engine after all (and a video service, and soon a music service).
    YouTube/Google is a pipe. They bring the information, video, sounds to the people who are searching for this content.
    If somebody pisses in the water, shall we attack the pipe manufacturer because the water has a bad taste?
    I don’t think so.
    There are a lot of technical solutions out there to help right holders to scan, detect and takedown illegal content and links, let’s use it.
    The problem is not that illegal sites are indexed, the problem is that it exist.
    It is national authorities’ responsibility to bring these sites down and sue the owners, they sometimes know perfectly how to do this (when an example of ‘we fight piracy’ is required to calm down the right holders’ lobbies)…
    It’s about political will, not technology. We have the technology already.

    • Chris

      And yet when Google wants to do something to stop a website (see RapGenius) it disappears so far down the Google listings as to almost drop off the face of the earth.

      Google could throttle EVERY piracy site in a heartbeat, easily, without thinking – you have to ask yourself why they don’t?

      And as for you pissing in the water analogy – Google is not only pissing in the water it’s charging people to take a dump in it and then coming along and saying “it’s not our place to stop them”

    • David

      If someone pisses in the water supply, you wouldn’t attack the pipe manufacturer, but you would most definitely attack the water supply company, because part of their job is to remove impurities from the water.

      In the case of pirated music, YouTube is a ‘water supplier’. To some extent they have cleaned up their act by using the Content ID system, though there are still obvious problems like the persistence of ‘full album’ and ‘full movie’ search results.

      Google Search is not exactly a water supplier, but it does direct people towards sources of water. If it directs people towards sources that it knows are contaminated, it should be held morally if not legally liable. In the case of pirated music, it can be argued that one of the responsibilities of a search engine is not to direct users towards illegal sources, where the users themselves potentially face severe legal penalties. I think Google should be especially concerned about Autocomplete, because in many cases this actively encourages people to search for illegal sources. If, for example, you enter ‘youtube’ (in itself a neutral search term) into the Google search box, the first few Autocomplete suggestions are likely to include ‘youtube converter’ and ‘youtube downloader’. This is even against Google’s own interests (through its ownership of YouTube). So why does it persist? I can only speculate that in the greater scheme of things Google would stand to lose more by taking the necessary action than it would gain in YouTube revenue. If Google takes effective action against YouTube download sites, it would be under pressure to take similar action against other pirate sites, and could not longer take the usual line of ‘it’s all too difficult’.

      • JTVDigital

        ahaha I knew the ‘pissing in water’ analogy will bring me some new fans :-)
        More seriously, I just tested a service named toppletrack and I am considering using it to prevent our artists’ songs to be made available on illegal sites.
        It seems to be working pretty well for detecting and de-indexing (I am not affiliated at all with them, just saying it looks interesting based on the tests I made).

  4. Wurd

    Google won’t even comment on this because they don’t do anything about it. A million take down notices means a million more eyeballs on their site. The enforcement efforts themselves give google traffic that generates revenue.
    The people who claim google has no control over this are apologists for the monopoly that is consciously working to defund the content creating community. They have been aware of this issues for years and choose not to do anything about it.

  5. smg77

    It’s amazing that in the year 2014 people still don’t understand what a search engine is and how it works.

    • David

      You are right that a lot of people don’t understand how search engines work. For example a lot of people think they are just automated systems applying algorithms. In reality, search engines (well, Google anyway) employ hundreds of people to manually review search results. If they find that websites are damaging Google’s own interests, e.g. by clogging up search results with spam or malware, those sites are ruthlessly downgraded or removed altogether. Google takes hundreds of thousands of manual actions against websites, or even entire Domain Name Registries, every year. So Google can do this when it suits their own interests. They just find it really difficult to do the same thing when it goes against their interests.

  6. ja

    more hot air. until someone beats google’s lawyers and stranglehold on the legal system, all reproduced arts will continue to suffer under their pirate friendly profit motive.

    • FarePlay

      No question, the overhaul of copyright will be a battle royal. One of the biggest flashpoints will be the DMCA. Safe Harbor provision This will be the high stakes battle where Google will pull out all the stops to preserve YouTube, a cash cow that they’ll want to protect.

      Whatever the outcome, a great deal unflattering information about Google is going to surface in the next year

        • Chris

          “Safe Harbour Provision” or the get out of jail free card that Google has used to rape and pillage musician’s rights for years. The fact that every country in the world has followed suit so meekly in adopting this rule has been the real problem.

          ISPS and hosts along with search engines should be made liable for EVERY SINGLE PIECE of content on their services. Failure to comply should mean jail – not fines – Google has a $150 billion cash surplus on its books

  7. Jakomi

    Folks, no matter how hard we try Google is never going to stop indexing illegal pirates sites. Why because they make too much revenue off it. Pirate sites spend a shit load of $$$ on ad words ad organic SEO. You only need to see the amount of traffic illegal downloading of content takes up on bandwidth terms across the whole internet to understand Google makes a shit load of cash from a). allowing pirate sites to purchase ad words and use key words such as ‘free music and’ The Pirate Bay etc to know that they are making hundreds of millions if not more every quarter from linking people to sites allowing anyone visiting Google to go straight to an offending site. b). If Google were to strike pirates from purchasing ad words then it will effect its bottom line and shareholders will not allow this to happen. Furthermore enshrined in company law is the fact Google’s core duty is to its shareholders…sadly not rights holders.

    The only way the music business is going to be able to solve this issue is by fighting Google in the courts in every territory that Google operates. And to do this the content industry need a massive war chest of cash. A bit of help form the UN will also not go astray and possibly the WTO as well.

    A blind man could tell Google is an accessory to piracy of content and the US government should have the caljones to go after it and charge it with such criminal offences. But as Google is in the US Government’s pocket in respect of the NSA – I bet anyone on here any amount they are willing to bet that the US goverment will sit on its hands and do nothing…

  8. Carl L.

    So there’s a site that can convert a youtube video to audio. In what way is that illegal? If there’s a security flaw it’s the fact that youtube itself does not protect against pulling the content unencrypted, not that there’s a website that takes advantage of that. You can just ban any site you happen not to like. Get real.

    • Musician

      It violates the Copyright Act and YouTube user agreement.

    • Buckley

      If a store has candy bars near the front door and the employee has their back turned and they don’t have security cameras, that doesn’t mean it’s legal to take as many candy bars as you want. You can use the “piracy isn’t theft because I’m taking a copy and they still have the original” thing all you want, but this isn’t about that, it’s about comparing doing one illegal thing to another, and digital piracy, whether it’s theft or not, is illegal.

  9. July Fighter

    Good comment Carl.

    It’s hard to feel bad for companies that are making cash off the artists, when the artist is typically getting far less than they deserve.

    • Chris

      Care to actually give any evidence that that happens?

      No one put a gun to the artists head when they signed a contract not that it stops freetards trotting out the usual bollocks like you just have

      • Me

        Really, Chris? It’s the content that is illegally uploaded to pirate sites by someone who does not own the copyright, and those who download it from pirate sites. They are stealing the content, and companies like google make money from ads at the pirate sites, and these sites show up at the top of results lists on search engines. The search engine companies can find and filter these pirate sites from search results, but they don’t. Question to the search companies, is why don’t they? My guess is $. If it is content that they don’t like or want you to see, they will remove it from search results. Get it?!

  10. Tom Ussery

    i worked in a candy vending co.. packed boxes all day(not vending machines) with candy.. route man brought boxes back and picked up refurbished boxes and returned to office sites on his route. it was all based on an honors program.(put money in the box and get yourself a piece of candy) This system has shifted to music download.. Human nature…some will some want pay. Whose to blame, the customers, the vending companies, or the the route man.
    PS.. us packers were allowed to eat all the candy we wanted

  11. Bach Beethoven and the Boys

    No one can control it?

    What other examples in history have their been where an institution lost control and what were the consequences of that?

    There you will find the answer.

    Let me know when you find out because I don’t know.

    Seems the whole music creator business paradigm is in for annihilation. Musicians can no longer earn money for their works. It’s a return to the 1700s when composers required wealthy sponsors to survive.

    • Peter Bogdanoff

      #Bach Beethoven and the Boys
      Institutions that lost control:
      In antiquity, Rome -> barbarians
      1776, British crown -> American revolutionaries
      19th C, East India Company -> Indian nationalism
      20th C, USSR -> Baltic states, Ukraine, Poland, et al
      21st C, governmental space agencies -> private space companies
      21st C, American electrical utilities -> people with solar roofs and huge batteries in their garages

      With the value of published (publically-available) recorded music approaching $0, it seems its time is over. The genie is out of the bottle. There will always be technologic ways to circumvent protections no matter what Google, or even Youtube does. Someone will just create another new free-music search engine or video service, or some hack for your Alexa device.

      Maybe the current style of live performances will have a longer life? But with people having a music recorder and video camera in their pockets, I don’t know. Maybe the old golden days will return, where live performance was ubiquitous, everywhere, where everyone played and sang in their homes, in the street, in restaurants, stores. People don’t need recorded music. But they would have to change from being solely consumers to producers–musicians themselves. And maybe there will again be an aristocracy that will support some musicians, like classical music is supported today–by donations and governmental subsidy.

      With available, and future, technology the dike has too many holes. Recorded music will always be there for the taking.