Google makes it harder to find pirated material? So what?

August 24, 2012

Google vs PiracyA good friend of mine often offers to download pirated books to my Kindle for me. He thinks it’s odd that I buy songs I like from iTunes instead of getting them from some Russian site offering free bootlegged MP3s and – I swear – I only watched one episode of “Downton Abbey” on that website of dubious legality that he found (okay, so maybe it was one season. But still…)

There are two reasons why I’m still a card-carrying member of the shrinking group known as Americans Who Actually Pay to Consume Media. First, as someone who primarily makes his living by writing, I do believe that people who create the things we read, watch and listen to deserve to be compensated for what they do. And, secondly, I just don’t want to get sued.

We’re a few years removed from those much-ballyhooed lawsuits the Recording Industry Association of America filed against Napster and Limewire users, but media organizations haven’t given up in their fight against online piracy. They’ve just gotten smarter and more subtle.

Recently, Google announced that it would change its search algorithm in a way that would bump sites over which Google has received a lot of valid copyright removal notices to the bottom of a results list. The idea is to make it less easy for Internet users to find websites that offer pirated content. Naturally, this is something movie studios, publishing houses and record labels have wanted for quite awhile.

Scanning the Internet for reactions to Google’s decision has been interesting. “Google does what Hollywood wants,” howled a southern California radio station. An article in SlashGear fretted that is was the beginning of the end for “a free and open Internet”.

Me? I just sort of shrugged.

I am not any bigger a fan of “1984”-style nannying than you are, but to me, people who dislike this move seem to be saying “Hey, I want to do something illegal and now Google’s making that harder.” It’s like complaining that new streetlights make it tougher for you to vandalize buildings. I’m not deaf to privacy concerns, but I think it’s perfectly fine for companies to take reasonable steps in the interest of preserving their intellectual property rights and, really, let’s stop expecting artists to give away their work for free.

Check back with me when I miss an episode of the “Downtown Abbey” next season, though. If that happens, I can’t guarantee I won’t be ransacking my email looking for that website address again.