The Rambler is a column by Graham Henderson, President of Music Canada. Graham writes from time to time about developments in the music industry, new trends or just about music! Let’s face it, Graham has been around for a long time and has a lot to ramble on about.
As Rambler readers will know, I have been monitoring Google’s promise to downgrade pirate sites in their search rankings since it was announced last August. I was initially skeptical about Google’s push, but willing to give them credit for this ‘better late than never’ effort. However, I was soon disappointed as my research showed that time and time and time again, licensed music sites and services were buried beneath dozens of links to dodgy sites that exploit artists’ work for financial gains. Unfortunately, Google’s 2010 claim that they would remove piracy related search terms from their Auto-complete feature was also exposed as bunk.
My findings were backed up today as the RIAA released their Google Report Card, a new document that shows how ineffective Google’s change was. The takeaway is clear: “Six months later, we have found no evidence that Google’s policy has had a demonstrable impact on demoting sites with large amounts of piracy. These sites consistently appear at the top of Google’s search results for popular songs or artists.”
Since Google’s pledge to downgrade pirate sites in their search rankings has been shown to be a complete farce, you’ll have to forgive me for taking their latest announcement with a handful of salt. According to the sparse details in the Telegraph, the Palo Alto search giant will now look to cut off financial payments to illegal download sites. Ellen Seidler, the independent filmmaker who became a reluctant advocate in the fight against piracy after finding her film hosted on thousands of illegal sites funded by advertising, has also announced her skepticism about Google’s latest move, asking “how much is just PR posturing versus real action?” Seidler’s blog, Pop-Up Pirates, has been documenting examples of brand supported for nearly three years.
Of course, there is a reason that these pirate sites are created: they make money from the advertisements. As Seidler said at Canadian Music Week’s Global Forum in 2011, “Online piracy isn’t about altruism, it’s about income.” Seidler’s presentation thoroughly explained how “legit” companies (such as ad service providers, advertisers, and payment processors) encourage and facilitate this theft while profiting from it. You can see video from her presentation on her Vimeo page.
Some of the screenshots below provide an example of how major brands are encouraging mass piracy by financing sites with their advertising dollars:
Here, Bell is supporting the exploitation of The Dears by placing an ad next to pirated copies of their album on 4Shared, a site that has received hundreds of thousands of copyright removal requests in the past month.
Here, Lysol buys advertising on a page illegally distributing Drake’s Grammy award winning album ‘Take Care’:
In this screenshot, the History Network funds advertisements next to pirated copies of The Tragically Hip’s music:
One of the most prominent critics of this ad-supported piracy is David Lowery of Cracker and Camper van Beethoven fame. Lowery will be one of the keynote speakers at the 2013 Global Forum at Canadian Music Week, which is coming up on March 22nd and is proudly sponsored by Music Canada.
Lowery has emerged as one of the most articulate voices championing artist rights in the digital age, penning a series of blogs at The Trichordist, including Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered and Meet The New Boss, Worse Than The Old Boss?.
The Trichordist has kickstarted discussion in this area, notably by launching a ‘name and shame’ campaign highlighting brands advertising on pirate sites. Music Canada has joined the campaign, tweeting at one brand per day to draw their attention to the problem. Canadian labels Last Gang Records and Six Shooter Records have also tweeted their support, as has the Featured Artist Coalition. The campaign has been gaining attention, and top brands have responded by ensuring their advertisements do not appear on pirate sites. For example, Levi’s was quick to respond to the news their ads were appearing next to pirated content. “When our ads were running unbeknownst to us on these pirate sites, we had a serious problem with that,” said Gareth Hornberger, Levi’s senior manager of global digital marketing. “We reached out to our global ad agency of record, OMD, and immediately had them remove them…. We made a point, moving forward, that we really need to take steps to avoid having these problems again.”
Also keynoting the Global Forum this year will be Chris Ruen, author of the new book, ‘Freeloading: How Our Insatiable Appetite for Free Content Starves Creativity’, which is an essential read for those working in the music industry.
Chris Castle will reprise his role as master of ceremonies at the 2013 Global Forum, which is sure to be an engaging conversation. I’d also like to announce that for the first time in the event’s history, the 2013 Global Forum will be streamed online and will encourage interaction through social media – which will hopefully bring the issue of brand supported piracy further into the mainstream discussion and encourage more brands to ensure they do not encourage or facilitate the exploitation of artists’ work.
Graham Henderson is the President of Music Canada. He also writes on an eclectic range of topics on his personal blog at www.grahamhenderson.ca.