Monday, April 24, 2006

Poor Bloody Google

I'm getting angry about a different topic today. I've been angry about this for a while but I haven't addressed it in this blog. I am getting increasingly angry about the ridiculous shenanigans being perpetrated in the name of "copyright protection".

As an original content producer I have somewhat of a vested interest in the topic. I don't want any of my work stolen. In my current context "stealing" concerns me in one way: the idea of someone taking what I wrote and pretending they wrote it would piss me off. If they were doing this for the purpose of commercial gain I would be even more pissed off.

As far as I'm concerned the more people that reproduce and distribute my work the better. Ideally, this reproduction and distribution would include a credit to me and a link back to this blog.

But you know, as much as it would piss me off if somebody pretended they wrote it themselves, it wouldn't be the end of the world. If they somehow managed to get a lot of attention for my work, it would be relatively easy to prove it was mine; after all, I have a timeline here on my blog. And then I could swoop in and claim the fame they had earned for my work.

Exploiting my work for commercial gain would make me really angry and I saw a weird example of how it could happen today. I like to randomly check the "recently updated blogs" feature that you get on various sites. Nine out of ten links you follow are rubbish but you find the occasional gem. If I've ever commented on your blog and you're wondering how the hell I found you, it was probably via this method. You regularly find spam blogs this way. Most commonly, spam blogs (splogs?) seem to be put together by random word generators and are full of links that are meant to boost the search engine rankings of particular sites. They are completely unreadable - in fact they make no attempt to be readable, it's all about the links.

Today I found a more cunning example. This seemed like an OK blog. A series of short, nicely written posts but something was not quite right. Most of the posts didn't seem to "finish" properly. They stopped while they were still mid-thought. And every post included a sentence along the lines of "then I did a random search for link to whatever". I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed but I did work out what was going on eventually. These scumbags are stealing posts from real blogs, inserting their spam link, then charging someone for (possibly) boosting their search engine ranking (this is known euphemistically as search engine optimisation {SEO} rather than theft and spam).

That pisses me off but it wasn't even the thing that made angry that I wanted to post about. It started off as a way to illustrate a point and I guess I built up a head of steam over it. What's making me angry is how stupid people are willing to be in the name of copyright protection. We have film and music companies telling us they have the right to dictate exactly what we can and can't do with products we purchased legally. We have software and hardware companies inventing systems to screw us over after we legally buy a product.

And then there are the idiots who fire off the "cease and desist" letters in completely inappropriate ways. This is the area that is making me angry today.

Poor bloody Google.

They spend their time essentially making the internet work. Without the effort Google have put into various projects, most obviously search, the internet would suck a lot more than it does. If you have a commercial product, generally speaking, Google makes it easier for potential paying customers to find you. Yes, I know, Google do a lot of questionable and outright wrong things, most notably their collusion with the repressive regime is China. I might rip on them for their faults another day but that isn't my purpose today.

Google decided it would be a good idea to digitise whole libraries of books and make their content searchable. This is an absolutely fucking brilliant idea! Access to all those books for all those people. Suddenly being able to find books that cover topics you want to know about. Books you would have a snowball's chance in hell of finding without this service. Potentially massive new audiences for the 99% of authors who languish in obscurity. Make no mistake, the current methods of producing, publishing and distributing original content (not only books) screw over the vast majority of creators. Everything is geared to favour the big publishing companies and a few "stars". And do Stephen King, Britney Spears and Jerry Bruckheimer really need more help?

Anyway, Google come up with this great plan and what is the response of a bunch of organisations that supposedly represent authors? Let's sue Google for daring to make these works available! Get this straight: Google was in no way planning to make it possible to download copyrighted books. They were going to let you search for books that had content you were looking for. Maybe let you read some pages so you were sure you had found what you wanted. In other words: point you to which fucking book to buy! And this is apparently bad for authors!?! I have two words for every argument put forward saying Google's library plan was bad: Bull. Shit.

And just last week, Google chose to commemorate the birthday of artist Joan Miro. Occasionally they tweak their home page logo to celebrate a particular event and on this day they made it look like some of the artist's work. And if curious users clicked on the logo they were taken to a site about Miro. And how did the "copyright holders" react? (Not the artist - the artist is dead) They squealed that Google was breaking the law! Breaching their copyrights!

Ignoring the fact that they were factually wrong (fair use/review/commentary etc. make what Google did perfectly legal) - it's plain stupid! Google are making the artist's work known to a potentially massive audience who otherwise may not be aware and what's the reaction of the people who stand to make the most commercial gain from that awareness? Oh no, don't do that - that's wrong.

I'll tell you what's happening here (and some of the perpetrators are even honest enough to admit this). These people see Google doing something. They know Google has lots of money. They know Google is making more money every day via Internet search. They see Google making money when somebody's search criteria turns up their commercial product. They then leap to "hey, Google's making money from my work! I want some of that money!"

Guess what genius? That isn't what's happening. If anything, you're going to make money from Google's work. You're just being greedy. And really fucking stupid too! This ridiculous tendency to prosecute fans and litigate against companies coming up with new ways to distribute knowledge is stupid. It's nothing but greed and it has to stop.

Anyone who says different is a fucking liar.


Michelle said...

I say different.

Ok, I admit that was a lie. But yeah, publicity is publicity, and we're talking about free publicity here so no one's got no reason to whine about it. Or whinge I should say.

I love the word splogs, is that your invention? I'm going to use it from now on if I ever have reason to talk about spam blogs, I'll credit you of course.

Maria said...

I used to be an ardent Mr Yahoo! supporter until Mr Google came along.

And why the f--- would people complain/whine about free publicity? Its absurd,really. Those $_$ (money-minded) humans! Sheesh...

Evi said...

Is anything, whether painted, written, formed or just thought of TRULY original?
If you want to get to the heart of the matter are we so arrogant to think we are such an island of creativity. Anyone who uses any form of expression is somehow inspired by the world around do you give credit to about trying to give back to that inspiration somehow?

Mr Angry said...

Michelle, I don't think I invented the word splog - I'm sure I've seen it used before but I'm not sure where (that's why I put the ? after it). I just did a Google search: 571,100 hits for "splog". Wikipedia has a good entry, apparently it was popularised by Mark Cuban a few years ago. So it would be more than slighlty against the spirit of my column to claim credit :)

Maria - there is no accounting for how greedy people can be.

Evi - you hit the nail on the head! Disney are terrible hypocrites on this front, they agreesively push for copyright extensions (because Mickey Mouse should be out of copyright now) but their whole empire is built on copying pre-existing works. They make me so angry! A whole seperate post coming about Disney...