Google’s streaming crackdown – a dated solution to a modern problem

By Kitty Knowles 20 February 2017

Love streaming Game of Thrones? It's time to renounce the Old Gods.

Do you stream news of Westeros before episodes are officially released? Google and Bing want to crack down on that.

The gruesome twosome today vowed to wipe piracy sites off the first page of search results.

“Consumers are increasingly heading online for music, films, e-books, and a wide variety of other content,” Jo Johnson, the UK minister responsible for innovation said in a blindingly obvious statement.

“It is essential that they are presented with links to legitimate websites and services, not provided with links to pirate sites.”

The agreement, struck by the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) alongside the film and music industry is an attempt to curb the popularity of copyright infringing websites.

But simply removing links from the first page of results will solve nothing.

It won’t stop people from illegally streaming their favourite shows, and fails to acknowledge the bigger picture.

It smack of big dogs who just don’t get digital.

Down the rabbithole

In the past 12 months, Google has taken down 915m links following requests from copyright holders; Bing has removed over 91m.

But quite frankly, there’s no way that the internet police can plug up every pirate rabbithole. And for every link removed, there are hundreds more to turn to.

Criminalising streaming doesn’t work (you end up with kids and their parents in court for watching a movie), while holding every host to account is is an impossible task (the crime is so wide-spread.)

It’s as if the old boys don’t realise how the internet works.

‘The law is the law’ is not a great law

The digital-savvy have always found a way around the law – we’ve downloaded MIDI files (yes, really) and then Napster, Limewire and Torrenting. Every time someone tried to stop us – we found a new way around it.

Today, streaming isn’t just ubiquitous. It’s easy. And it’s socially acceptable.

This isn’t a vice that relegated behind the bikesheds of society.

It’s dinner table talk. Bosses and colleagues share website links. Parents and teachers and children will openly discuss what they’ve been illegally watching.

There’s no shame, this is no ‘guilty pleasure’.

Young people believe breaking the law has no meaning, because current media copyright law makes no sense in the digital age.

If Google and bing take the results for ‘GOT S1E1’ of page one – fans will simply click to page two.

Modern Family. Pic: ABC
Modern Family. Pic: ABC

The bigger picture

To really address the issue, we have to look at the way media works today.

The truth is, in the age of the internet, we no longer operate on a country-by-country basis. The world has shrunk.

We work transatlantic jobs, families span continents, and yet we feel connected, because we share a global digital culture.

Consider the US-UK music charts of the nineties, where pop artists were prisoner to months-long lags between releases. In a world of digital music that concept, rightly, seems crazy now.

The fact we Brits are forever a season behind hit series like Modern Family, is equally ridiculous.

Face it: the reviews are out, we know whether the writers slipped or shone, whether reviewers were left crying tears of laughter into their couches – or not.

We even know the plot and that’s usually swiftly splashed across the web – a killer for those who are addicted to cliff-hanging dramas.

Strictly business

Don’t get us wrong, we’re business-savvy, we get why the big dogs don’t want to ‘give’ away a product for free.

But realistically a new approach to global releases is the only real way to protect content.

Netflix already releases its original content this way (although its licensed content is still shackled).

In the meantime, as high-profile shows like Game of Thrones demonstrate (the most illicitly streamed show of all time), streaming can actually boost business.

Not only has streaming Westeros allowed hype to spread like ‘wildfire’ through communities, fans probably consider signing up to Sky Atlantic afterwards (we certainly did).

Even if they don’t, they buy the books, the boxsets, the merchandise, and on a wider level, they also follow the series’ shiney new stars and their new favourite HBO writers in whatever they do next.

The creatives still come out on top. When it comes to digital media, this is the new world order. There are no borders – we hear about shows the second they come out and demand them immediately. Netflix gets it:

It’s about time our old-media overlords caught up.