Thursday, May 26, 2011

Is Google a "Rogue" Website?

There is much discussion about the latest over the top American copyright bill called PROTECT IP. This one has some serious backing, namely Senator Leahy and his entertainment industry friends.

Some think that the Americans, who like to give their bills acronyms, draft bills to fit those acronyms. This acronym is admittedly easier on the eyes and ears than the previous version, which was called COICA. This new bill presumably extends the war on “piracy” by allowing the easier take-down of so-called “rogue” websites and the blocking of access to such sites and the seizure of domain names in civil proceedings.

Here’s the Bill.         

Here’s an article in Wired about it.

The issue of “rogue” websites arose at the recent Fordham conference. I asked a question along the following lines that raised a lot of eyebrows:

Q: What would you call a website that allows one to instantly find thousands of free unauthorized files of a specified type (such as “torrent”) of Lady Gaga, Pirates of the Caribbean or whatever else may be of interest?

A: The answer, of course, is Google. 

Here are official instructions from Google itself on how to do precisely the above.

So, if you are doing legal research and want to find anything I’ve written or that refers to me and want it to be in PDF format, simply do a Google search for:

filetype:pdf Howard Knopf

Likewise, if you want to find lots of free and likely illegal torrent files of music or movies, simply enter:

filetype:torrent Name of singer, song, movie, etc.

Is Google a rogue or pirate website or “dedicated” to such activity? Hardly.

Can it be used to find illegal copies of music, videos, etc.? Yes - easily.

Should this feature of Google be disabled? Absolutely not because there are countless perfectly legal and useful torrent files out there waiting to be searched and downloaded.

“Torrent” is simply a type of filename extension for a file specification that is no more inherently connected to piracy than paper is to pornography.

Should Google be taken down because it can be used to get pirated content? Of course not.

The Bill is arousing great concern amongst very respected academics and corporate interests up to and including Google itself because it threatens the very architecture of the internet through its scheme to force ISPs to refuse recognize IP addresses of piratical sites that somebody has been to convince a judge to enter an order against.  For geeks, see this.

The lesson is that the difference between a rogue website on the one hand and an indispensable and highly praised one on the other hand may entail more a matter of degree than any obvious and clear bright line.

Maybe it’s a bit like the definition of "hard-core pornography" so famously stated by former US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart - “I know it when I see it.”

The whole passage bears quotation:
I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.
That would be a very dangerous approach to apply to the internet. 


  1. You realize that you'll upset the poor souls in the Balanced Copyright Facebook Group by saying such terrible things. They'll be so absolutely freaked out at you :)


  2. The fundamental disconnect is between the entertainment industry types, who see the Internet as a broadcast medium, and the people who designed, built and use it, who see it as a communication medium.
    It's clear to the latter that search engines and the like are just helping people communicate the things that they want to communicate.
    The problem is that the entertainment industry want to be able to decide what people should (and more importantly should not) be communicating.
    If only the politicians would recognise that the Internet is much more like a souped-up telephone than a weird form of TV, we'd all be much better off.

  3. I agree with the article, but I have one nomenclature complaint: the term "intellectual property" is NOT good.

    What the publishers always had is COPYRIGHT, which is a time-limited (and mostly undeserved) legal monopoly to produce COMMERCIAL copies and license COMMERCIAL performances of certain works.

    They are trying hard to to rename that concept as "property", so that they can then claim that their rights are permanent (like property rights are) and extensive to ALL copies and performances, INCLUDING PRIVATE ONES.

    We must not allow them do that. Please refrain from using that term; let's stick to "copyright".