Thursday, February 11, 2010

Blogocide 2010: Google slams music blogs

Acting at the behest of unknown forces waving DCMA notices, Google has wiped music-hosting blogs off the net:

"We'd like to inform you that we've received another complaint regarding your blog," begins the cheerful letter received by each of the owners of Pop Tarts, Masala, I Rock Cleveland, To Die By Your Side, It's a Rap and Living Ears. All of these are music-blogs – sites that write about music and post MP3s of what they are discussing. "Upon review of your account, we've noted that your blog has repeatedly violated Blogger's Terms of Service ... [and] we've been forced to remove your blog. Thank you for your understanding."

Naturally, what Google have actually shut down are not unlicensed mp3 farms, but passionate blogs promoting and sharing and - for the most part - publishing legal mp3s, often provided directly by the record labels.

Let's just be fair to Google for a moment: there is an argument that, by responding quickly and generously to angry letters sent under the DCMA, they can argue that they're good digital mayors. When the RIAA push for more powers from The White House, Google can legitimately show what they've done on occasions like this, and say "the current rules are working, there is no need to tighten them further."

You can see that argument.

The only problem being that the rules aren't working, and the way Google are implementing these rules is haphazard and unfair:
In a complaint posted to Google Support, Bill Lipold, the owner of I Rock Cleveland, cited four cases in the past year when he had received copyright violation notices for songs he was legally entitled to post. Tracks by Jay Reatard, Nadja, BLK JKS and Spindrift all attracted complaints under the USA's Digital Millennium Copyright Act, even when the respective MP3s were official promo tracks. As a publicist for BLK JKS' label, Secretly Canadian, told Lipold: "Apparently DMCA operate on their own set of odd rules, as they even requested that the BLK JKS' official blog remove the song." It's not clear who "DMCA" is in this case, as the act does not defend itself.

Google have tried to explain:
"When we receive multiple DMCA complaints about the same blog, and have no indication that the offending content is being used in an authorised manner, we will remove the blog," explained product manager Rick Klau. "[If] this is the result of miscommunication by staff at the record label, or confusion over which MP3s are 'official' ... it is imperative that you file a DMCA counter-claim so we know you have the right to the music in question."

This is a curious explanation, though: if you want a blog closed down, all you have to do is send multiple complaints? And what does Google mean by having "no indication that the offending content is being used in an authorised manner", exactly?

If the music is being used in an allowed fashion, then it is not - clearly - offending content, is it? And given that Google don't always tell you what the track in question might be, how do you counterclaim?

Google should make sure that the DCMA claim is a valid one, certainly before pulling an entire blog - but that would take time, and money, and be a faff, and suddenly turn a publishing platform into some sort of copyright arbitration court. And you can see why that's not a role Google would relish.

So, yes, Google have been heavy handed and - once again - besmirched their 'don't be evil' pledge. But the fault isn't really theirs - they shouldn't be having to police content in the first place. It's the DCMA which is broken, and railing against Google is missing the mark.

(Besides, come on: what self-respecting blogger is on Blogger anyw... oh.)