2010 Is Becoming the Year of Google Screwups
So far, 2010 is shaping up to be the year Google discovered it had feet of clay -- and those feet have been spending a lot of time in Google's mouth.
First, there was Google's disastrous foray into direct-to-consumer sales with the Nexus One phone, in which Google learned that, yes, you actually have to talk to customers when they're ticked off; they're not willing to wait until somebody gets around to responding on an online forum. Though Google has gotten slightly better at dealing with complaints over problems with 3G connections and phone delivery, it still hasn't figured out what "customer service" actually means.
Then, Google Buzz: a nice idea, if you spend all your time on the Googleplex and have no life and no secrets. Otherwise, it's just a bit too friendly with the information of relative strangers. Google has revised its Buzz product at least three times since it was introduced last week, trying to quell the privacy storm that followed; it still has a ways to go on that one, too.
On top of those comes a so-far little-reported incident that's been tagged Musicblogocide 2010. Earlier this month Google deleted years' worth of archives from six popular music blogs hosted on Blogger.com -- just wiped them from the face of the InterWebs. The reason? It had received multiple DMCA takedown notices from record companies alleging these sites were sharing music illegally.
Under the DMCA (otherwise known as Congress's boundless gift to copyright holders), a service provider like Google can escape liability for violations only if it acts immediately to remove any offending sites or files. The copyright holder doesn't have to prove the violations are genuine, and the service provider doesn't even have to notify the sites beforehand -- it can wipe first and notify later.
The problem? Some of the sites claim they had permission to share those music files. Worse, others say Google didn't ever notify them -- or if they were notified, the information was so vague that it was impossible to find out where the alleged violations occurred.
The only recourse for a site that's been hit with a DMCA takedown is to file a counternotification -- essentially a claim of innocence -- which Google then must forward to the copyright holders. If the copyright holders don't take legal action against the alleged infringers within two weeks, their sites must be restored.
That's kinda hard to do if 1) you've never been notified, or 2) you have no idea what you allegedly did wrong. In one case, Google has admitted its notifications were insufficient and restored the site. As for the others, it's sticking by its policies and saying the bloggers should have filed counterclaims.
Meanwhile, Bill Lipold, owner of the I Rock Cleveland blog, has been publicly haranguing Google and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (essentially an international version of the RIAA) on Google's own public support forums. He's reproduced emails from record companies stating he had the right to publicly distribute their music. On his new, non-Google-hosted blog, he points out that at least one of the files in question had been removed from his site more than two years previous, which would have been easy enough to check:
"If at this point you're drawing the conclusion that neither the IFPI nor Google know exactly what they're doing in these matters, you're not alone. If at any point during the DMCA claim process a human being had clicked on the link and looked for the infringing content they wouldn't have found an mp3, but a 404 with the message, 'Sorry, dude. The rockin' has stopped. Please be aware that downloads from I Rock Cleveland are only available for a limited time. You can find more Rock 'N' Roll at I Rock Cleveland.' "
Google isn't to blame for the DMCA, one of the most spectacularly abused pieces of digital legislation ever created. But it does seem to be getting more aggressive about DMCA enforcement.