After delivering a major blow to torrent sites during October, Google must’ve thought the MPAA would be pleased. Instead, however, the MPAA issued a ‘snarky’ press release. According to a leaked email, the press release so infuriated Google’s top brass that the company ended cooperation with the MPAA.
Each week Google removes millions of ‘infringing’ links from search engine results at rightsholders’ request, 9.1m during the last documented week alone. In the main Google removes these links within hours of receiving a complaint, a record few other large sites can match.
But no matter what Google does, no matter how it tweaks its search algorithms, it’s never been enough for the MPAA. For years the movie group has been piling on the pressure and whenever Google announces a new change, the MPAA (and often RIAA) tell the press that more can be done.
By most standards, this October Google really pulled out the stops. Responding to years of criticism and endless complaints that it’s one of the world’s largest facilitators of pirate content, Google came up with the goods.
“We’ve now refined the signal in ways we expect to visibly affect the rankings of some of the most notorious sites,” said Katherine Oyama, Google’s Copyright Policy Counsel.
“Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in search results. This ranking change helps users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily.”
Google’s claims were spot on. Within days it became clear that torrent sites had beenhit hard. Was this the tweak the MPAA had been waiting for?
Google seemed confident, in fact so confident that according to an email made public due to the recent Sony hack attack, the company contacted MPAA chief Senator Chris Dodd the day before to give him the headsup.
But if Google was hoping for a congratulatory public statement, they would need to look elsewhere. Instead of a warm reception the MPAA chose to suggest that Google knew it have been involved in wrongdoing.
“Everyone shares a responsibility to help curb unlawful conduct online, and we are glad to see Google acknowledging its role in facilitating access to stolen content via search,” the MPAA’s press release began.
The leaked emails reveal that Google responded furiously to the perceived slur.
“At the highest levels [Google are] extremely unhappy with our statement,” an email from the MPAA to the studios reads.
“[Google] conveyed that they feel as if they went above and beyond what the law requires; that they bent over backwards to give us a heads up and in return we put out a ‘snarky’ statement that gave them no credit for the positive direction.”
In response to the snub, Google pressed the ‘ignore’ button. A top executive at Google’s policy department told the MPAA that his company would no longer “speak or do business” with the movie group.
In future Google would speak with the studios directly, since “at least three” had already informed the search engine that they “were very happy about the new features.”
While the MPAA and Google will probably patch things up in future, the emails also suggest reasons why the MPAA might have given Google a frosty reception.
First up, the MPAA had no time to assess the changes Google had put in place, so had no idea whether they would work. Welcoming changes that fail to perform in future is clearly something the MPAA would want to avoid.
But intriguingly the emails suggest that the MPAA were trying not to affect another external matter from progressing.
“We were also sensitive to the fact that Mississippi [Attorney General] Hood is expected to issue a [Civil Investigative Demand] to Google sometime this week; we did not want an unduly favorable statement by us to discourage AG Hood from moving forward,” the MPAA email reads.
In conclusion the MPAA felt that Google overreacted to their October press release and that the problems will eventually blow over. It’s certainly possible that relations have improved since the emails were written in October.