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The fat controllers

Summer 2014

There’s a lot of muttering at the moment suggesting that both Google and Facebook are getting just too big and professional, and consequently are acting as barriers to innovation on the internet.

This muttering is not new, but is currently being provoked by the efforts of Google, in particular, to try and give some people their just deserts; people, that is, who own copyrights.

It has long been a complaint of the music industry and others that too many people are making fast and loose with their work, and worse, making money out of it.  It’s just too easy to borrow a Beatles song and add it to your website.  If it helps you generate advertising revenue from the site, you are happy; but you really should have paid the Beatles first.

The most obvious offenders are the users of YouTube (proprietor: Google).  YouTube allows you to display to the world any video you’ve made, but you are not supposed to include copyrighted material without permission.  Often this is background music, or perhaps a logo. 

YouTube couldn’t possibly check all the stuff that gets put there; over 100 hours of video are uploaded every minute.  They go at it a different way.   You give Google a copy of what you want to protect (perhaps a piece of music, or an image), and their ContentID software continuously scours the millions of YouTube videos to find likely infringements and tells you if it finds one.

They offer you three options: shut it down, do nothing or receive a share (sometimes all) of any advertising revenue that is generated from sites using the video (money which passes through Google’s hands anyway).

By the way, if this rings a bell, you are right; since Lord Reith’s time the BBC has combed its output for copyright material.  If an errand boy in a play whistles a popular tune the owner of the copyright is paid.

Now this all seems reasonable to me, full marks to Google.  As someone who has had his written work reproduced without acknowledgement or payment too often, I sympathise with the musicians.  Also, there are perfectly easy and cheap ways of obtaining copyright-free music, if Paul McCartney won’t play ball. 

However, some online games players are cross, because it seems that Google is about to pay $1 billion for a three-year old website that you’ve never heard of:  This site allows viewers to watch each other playing video games, live.   I’m not even interested in watching myself playing a game, but 32 million people watched the final of some sort of tournament last year on  So you can see why Google are interested in grabbing hold of a route to all those eyes, mostly belonging to young men with disposable income, so that they can direct advertising at them.

What’s upset the gamers is that they often film themselves playing a game whilst listening to favourite recorded music; once is part of Google, the Content ID sheriff will march in, and the person making the video will lose any advertising revenue that they were generating.  In some cases this is a lot of money.

This is probably just a sign that the internet is growing up and having to behave responsibility, and it won’t bother you and me, directly.  However, it does show how Google and, using similar techniques, Facebook, increasingly control not only the way in which we use the internet, but what goes on it, and who makes money.

I don’t know what the answer is but I’d hate it if we stifle a lot of the genuinely interesting creative work that is promoted on the web.  All we’ll be left with is the videos of cats doing amusing things, provided they don’t mew a Beatles song, of course.


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