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In the series “algorithm regulation”, we discuss the implications of the growing importance of technological algorithms as a means of regulation in the digital realm.
Earlier this year, Google revealed that it routinely removes search results that link to material allegedly infringing copyrights, thereby following removal requests of copyright holders (see “New Layer of Copyright Enforcement: Search“). Since this announcement, the number of removed search results per month has quadrupeld (see Figure below).
Yesterday, Google announced that in addition to removing search results it is going to also adapt its ranking algorithm:
Starting next week, we will begin taking into account a new signal in our rankings: the number of valid copyright removal notices we receive for any given site. Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results.
As in discussed in the first entry of this series on algorithm regulation, the technological layer of regulation is becoming increasingly important for copyright enforcement. But Google’s move to tinker with its most precious asset, the search algorithm, also evidences that technological regulation of this kind may directly result from stakeholder negotiations.
Recently Google announced an extension to its “Transparency Report“, which now also includes a section on requests to remove search results that link to material that allegedly infringes copyrights. Last month, Google processed 1,294,762 copyright removal requests by 1,109 reporting organizations, representing 1,325 copyright owners. The Figure below illustrates how the number of requests has increased between July 2011 to mid May 2012.
The growing number of removal requests points to the relevance of search technology as a means for copyright enforcement. Since for many Internet users what is not found by Google appears to be non-existent, removing search results from Google’s results lists is obviously a powerful tool for private copyright enforcement. However, several downsides are connected with such private copyright enforcement practices:
While the dust of the SOPA and PIPA battle in the US has not settled yet, we quickly approach the next showdown around an acronym in the realm of intellectual property regulation. This time the main battleground is Europe, the acronym is ACTA. The “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement” had been negotiated secretly for years until in early 2010 a draft of the agreement was leaked (see Michael Geist; for a critical and more up to date overview see the ACTA info portal of La Quadrature du Net (LQDN)). Since this leak, the draft had been substantially reworked and, last week, the treaty was signed by representatives of the European Commission and 22 member states in an official signing ceremony.
However, the political controversy is far from being over. For one, the treaty needs to be approved by the European Parliament, which is now the main target for mobilization of both supporters and opponents. For another, the signing of ACTA has sparked surprisingly strong protests in some EU member states, above all in Poland (see video below). The intensity of the Polish opposition has in turn raised attention in neighboring states, most importantly in Germany, as well.
In the history of copyright law, legislation in Europe and the US have wound each other up more and more. Everytime when there was a copyright term extension on one side of the ocean, lobbyists on the other side started finger pointing, demanding the same rights to protect artists and the industry. A recent example for such regulatory inspiration has been the EU database directive, which created a sui generis right for the creators of databases which do not qualify for copyright. Ever since this directive had been passed in Europe, lobbyists in the US have tried to introduce a similar provision into US copyright law (see Boyle 2008: 207 ff.). Such regulatory inspiration is neither new nor surprising nor restricted to the domain of copyright.
However, what has been leaked in the Wikileaks cables on the influence of the US on the new Spanish copyright law is way beyond mere inspiration for lobbyists. As reported by the Guardian, in this case the lobbyist has been the US government itself:
The US ambassador in Madrid threatened Spain with “retaliation actions” if the country did not pass tough new internet piracy laws, according to leaked documents. [...] In his letter, Solomont [i.e. the US ambassedor] issued veiled threats, reminding its recipients that Spain is on the Special 301, the US trade representatives’ list of countries that do not provide “adequate and effective” protection of intellectual property rights. Spain risks having its position on the list “degraded”, and could join the real blacklist of “the worst violators of global intellectual property rights.”
As mentioned in my last post, this summer I am visiting the WZB to work on a paper about the digital public domain. Rifling through a huge pile of papers on the issue, I recently stumbled across Robert P. Merges’ 2004 essay “A New Dynamism in the Public Domain” (PDF) – and I really regret not having read this piece much earlier. He summarizes the main point of his paper as follows:
The simple point of this Essay is that these investments are invigorating the public domain with a new dynamism stemming from private action. These investments demonstrate that private action, and not just government policy, can augment the public domain. (p. 184)
Such private investments into the public domain, Merges argues, are inspired by the very expansions of intellectual property rights they seek to counteract: Read the rest of this entry »
Starting this week and ending in October, I am visiting researcher at the Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB). The reason for my stay is a research project on the societal and economic role of the digital public domain, which I am working on together with Jeanette Hofmann. In this context, I started re-reading some of the classic works on the issue, such as David Lange’s “Recognizing the Public Domain” (PDF) from the year 1981.
While reading through this paper and his assessment of then recent changes in copyright law, several of his conclusions are strikingly similar to the ones made by contemporary copyright critics:
“I will argue that the growth of intellectual property in recent years has been uncontrolled to the point of recklessness.” (p. 147)
“The [copyright] law seemed suddenly to metastasize” (p. 153)
“The field of intellectual property can begin to resemble a game of conceptual Pac Man in which everything in sight is being gobbled up” (p. 156)
Since Lange’s assessments in 1981, however, there have been some of the most fundamental revisions in copyright’s history such as the TRIPS treaty or the subequent WIPO Copyright Treaties and their respective implementation into national law – all further increasing strength and scope of intellectual property rights (for a detailed account of the regulatory changes between 1980 and 2000, see Drahos and Braithwaite 2002). Read the rest of this entry »
In their book “Information Feudalism” (2002), Peter Drahos and John Braithwaite argue that the “danger of intellectual property lies in the threat to liberty” (p. 3). Also Jamie Boyle, in his open access book “The Public Domain” (2008, PDF) warns against the potential of strong copyrights to interfere with some of the most basic human rights such as free speech. Only rarely, however, these dangers become so clearly visible as in the current controversy around a Greenpeace campaign video.
It all started with a very successful Superbowl commercial by VW, featuring a child as Darth Vader and being enormously successful on YouTube with over 40 million viewers so far:
Inspired by this commercial, Greenpeace created a parody featuring several kids playing other famous Star Wars characters and attacking VW for its CO2 policies on the campaign website www.vwdarkside.com. When today I wanted to see the video embedded at the site, I however only encountered the message delivered by YouTube that the video was not available due to copyright infringement (see screenshot below). Read the rest of this entry »
A few days ago, the German collecting society GEMA was criticized by CEOs of leading music labels such as Universal or Sony Music for not being able to negotiate an agreement with Google, the owner of YouTube, that would allow their music videos to be featured on the site (see “Cracks in the Content Coalition: Corporations vs. Copyright Collectives“). Today the German branch of the hacktivism group Anonymous weighed in and launched a campaign against GEMA (see the video message below).
At the time I
am was writing this post, the GEMA homepage is was down, most likely because of a distributed denial-of-service attack - the standard form of online protest organized by Anonymous. The rationale for the attack given in the video explicitly refers to the recent criticism by major label representatives and reads as follows (my translation): Read the rest of this entry »
Right on time before flying to Leuven for the upcoming ESF Workshop “Consuming the Illegal“, Google/YouTube published the copyright cartoon perfectly illustrating what the workshop will be about:
The copyright abolitionists over at “Against Monopoly” feature a series entitled “IP as a joke“. But this video, as funny as it may seem, is to be taken completely serious. The background for this crazy/disturbing/awkward “Copyright School” is a change in YouTube’s copyright infringement policies. As repeatedly discussed on this blog (e.g. “This Post is Available in Your Country“) and described by fellow workshop participant Domen Bajde (see “Private Negotiation of Public Goods: Collateral Damage(s)“), users who posted three videos containing (seemingly) infringing content to YouTube have not only lost those videos but all of their videos: their account was deleted.
But since even for copyright lawyers it is often difficult to distinguish between infringing and non-infringing (fair) use (see the workshop paper of Sigrid and myself), a lot of creative users remixing existing works were in constant danger to lose all their uploaded videos due to suddenly becoming a “multiple infringer”. This week, Google has softened this policy a little. “Infringers” are now first sentenced to “copyright school”. On the official YouTube-blog this reads as follows: Read the rest of this entry »
Every day I keep adding open tabs to my browser with interesting articles on issues related to governance across borders, hoping to find the time to blog about them; only rarely, I actually manage to do so. This is why I am starting the new year with a new series called “Tagged Tabs”. To remove at least some of the open tabs in my browser I will (un)regularly present a list of commented links to interesting articles elsewhere.
- “Copyrights vs Human Rights“: former Sun Microsystem’s open source evangelist Simon Phipps criticizes “Three-Strikes” laws for equating “loss of a significant right with a real but trivial civil matter”. I could not agree more.
- “Apple removes VLC from App Store, GPL to blame“: having discussed problems of license (in)compatibility previously on this blog (see, for example, “Money Buys You Standards?“), incompatibility of licenses with certain business models or infrastructures seems critical, as well.
- “LG and Windows Phone 7: High Expectations, Low Sales“: it is almost an irony of history that Microsoft seems to face the same challenge in the smartphone market that all its competitors face in the desktop market: the applications barrier to entry (see, for example, Prieger and Hu 2007). Nevertheless, Microsoft’s desktop earnings will allow to fight for a long, long time.
- “‘Comes With Music’ no more for most Nokia phones“: irony #2: Nokia’s service “Comes With Music”, one of the last examples of DRM in the music business (see “DRM in the Music Industry: Revival or Retreat?“), will be discontinued in 27 of 33 countries and only survive in countries with high levels of piracy such as China, where Nokia abstained from using DRM in the first place.