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Watchdog Group Cites Google for Copyright Violations

27 Sep, 2007 By: Billy Gil

Google's video service is once again under fire. This time, it's not from copyright holders, but rather a nonprofit group that Sept. 26 sent several lawmakers letters haranguing Google for facilitating the screening of illegally copied movies, according to The Associated Press.

The National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) sent members of the House of Representatives and Senate committees on commerce and the judiciary letters focusing on illegally recorded full-length theatrical films found on Google's video-hosting service (which incorporates subsidiary YouTube).

Google and its YouTube service are being sued by Viacom Inc. for alleged copyright infringement.

The NLPC, founded in 1991, has had a hand in at least one other high-profile ethics issue. It is known for revealing a conflict of interest in a $30 billion plan for the Air Force to lease aircrafts from Boeing, which resulted in multiple firings at Boeing and jail time for involved parties.

NLPC chairman Ken Boehm, who described his organization as made up of individuals who “tend to be free-market types,” said it isn't tied to the movie industry. Rather, it is criticizing Google on an ethical basis.

“One of [Google's] unofficial corporate mantras was ‘Do no evil'; here's a multibillion dollar corporation ripping off smaller movie studios. We thought, ‘That's wrong; that's evil,’ Boehm said. “We decided we would do our research and found it was pretty widespread.”

NLPC's research included hiring Boehm's 18-year-old nephew for $10 an hour from Sept. 10 through Sept. 18. They turned up 300 apparently pirated films with a combined 22 million views. A list of the films, including recent theatrical films such as Shrek the Third, Ocean's Thirteen and The Bourne Ultimatum, can be found on NLPC's Web site at www.nlpc.org.

“I think if we had more time and did it in a more systematic way, we could have found thousands,” Boehm said.

Most of the films are found through tricks, such as misspelling the film's name or using related film titles. For instance, a Google search for Ocean's Thirteen turned up a full video of Ocean's Twelve star Catherine Zeta-Jones' recent romantic comedy No Reservations. A search for The Bourne Ultimatum revealed full-length videos of Knocked Up and Sunshine, the latter in French.

Google Video search results include YouTube as well as video sites GoFish, Vimeo, MySpace, Biku, and Yahoo Video, in addition to Google Video uploads.

NLPC alleges that Google makes it cumbersome for copyright holders to file complaints about illegal content, and that once a video is taken down, it can reappear within a matter of minutes.

The problem, Boehm said, is that Google has little filtering for its video service, beyond pulling content deemed pornographic or offensive. He said Google has promised to implement filtering but hasn't yet done so, even though other, smaller video services with fewer resources have done so.

He thinks Viacom has a strong case against Google.

“I think they'll lose because the courts will find the law says you shouldn't facilitate copyright theft,” Boehm said. “It's not a victimless crime. It's a theft by a billion-dollar corporation of property that belongs to other people.”

Boehm hopes his group's efforts will shame Google into more actively filtering for copyrighted video.

Regarding the complaints, Google spokesman Gabriel Strickler told the AP, “As a company that respects the rights of copyright holders, we work every day to help them manage their content, and we are developing state-of-the-art tools to let them do that even better.”

Boehm said by focusing on boosting its audience and profits, Google is not only “sending the message that piracy is OK,” it's damaging creativity in the movie industry.

“One of the downsides of this for the consumer is if, in fact, movies continue to lose profitability — which has been happening — ultimately we're going find a thinning out of titles being produced,” he said. “So as a result we'll just end up getting commercial fair. We'll have Spider-Man 40.

“All of the smaller and more interesting types of genres are going to end up being unprofitable because who's going to pay 10 or 15 bucks for a movie or video if [you can just watch it online]?”

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