Google has been a scapegoat for the media industry for many years now. When it's not newspapers accusing it of making money by getting them more readers, it's Hollywood accusing it of making money off of piracy.Google has done more to fight piracy than any other search engine and than most other tech companies, but for people looking at someone or something to blame, it's an easy target.
For one, media companies accuse Google of making money by placing ads on its search engine next to "pirate" searches. Google actually takes plenty of steps to ensure this doesn't happen.
It also removes millions of allegedly infringing links from its search results, over 50 million in the last year alone. More recently, it also started downrating sites that get a lot of piracy-related takedown requests.
A few years ago, another common accusation was that Google was making money from the ads on pirate sites. Yet, these sites are banned from using Google's advertising network.
That's not stopping a new "transparency report" from University of Southern California's Annenberg Innovation Lab which claims that Google is one of the top ad networks used by the biggest pirate sites out there.
OpenX is the most used ad network by these sites, according to the report [PDF]. USC is located in LA, the home of Hollywood, but that probably has nothing to do with the report and its conclusion.
The lab's director, a former film exec, is also a firm believer that ad networks are profiting unfairly from these pirate sites and that they should do more to "make it harder for the 'Kim Dotcom’s' of the world to unfairly exploit artists."
Meanwhile, the FBI, the US Department of Justice, New Zealand Police and its secret service can't prove the actual Kim Dotcom of the world did anything illegal, not for lack of trying.
But that should not be taken as an indication of bias in the report's results. There's also no methodology or raw data provided for the report, just a list of ad networks. Strangely, Google doesn't accept the report at face value.
"We have not seen a copy of this report and don’t know the methodology, but to the extent it suggests that Google ads are a major source of funds for major pirate sites, we believe it is mistaken," Google said in a statement.
"Over the past several years, we’ve taken a leadership role in this fight, partnering with industry organizations to cut off the flow of money to piracy sites, as well as investing significant time and money to keep copyright-infringing content out of our network," it said.
"The complexity of online advertising has led some to conclude, incorrectly, that the mere presence of any Google code on a site means financial support from Google," it added.