Posted by: Ben | April 11, 2011

Shooting Fish: Something about Google, and the Daily Mail.

Our lower-quality newspapers are have been responsible for some fairly ludicrous articles, and Alex Brummer in the Daily Mail has produced a classic of the genre. Of course, dissecting a Daily Mail article for one’s own entertainment is like shooting fish in a barrel, and frankly you could go through almost every article on the website looking for ridiculous assertions, but we all have our simple pleasures. This is a lo-o-ong article, and it’s not going to be possible to enumerate every single mistake, logical flaw and fabrication, but luckily enough of them leap out at you.

Let’s start with the title. “Google threatens to destroy not only pop sensation Adele, but Britain’s film and music industries. So why is No.10 in thrall to this parasitic monster?” A winning headline that combines celebrity, politics and evil corporations. All it needs is a serial killer.

You have to be fairly alarmed that Google has apparently threatened to destroy a perfectly good pop star. I’d be a bit worried if I was her. Are they sending her hate mail? Making silent phone calls? And why do they want to destroy her anyway? Don’t bother reading the article to find out. Nothing in it so much as implies that anyone from Google has threatened to destroy anybody.

The article begins “The music and books retailer HMV and the music giant EMI are two of the grand old dames of Britain’s music industry.”

This is basically an anthromorphic and cuddly way of saying that they are very large companies that have been around for a long time. If Wikipedia is accurate, HMV shops first appeared in 1921, owned by the Gramophone Company. EMI was founded in 1931 when the Gramophone Company merged with Columbia Gramophone Company, and HMV became a separate company in 1998, the same year Google was founded. Brummer’s “Grand Old Dames” have been around for 80 years and 13 years respectively.

And they’re not really “Dames,” whatever in God’s name that means, they’re businesses, which is why EMI sold the “His Master’s Voice” trademark to HMV in 2003 when the latter was floated on the stock market.

But the future of both of these historic enterprises,” continues Brummer, “with a pedigree of recording talent going back almost a century, is in doubt.”

It’s impossible to disagree with the “in doubt” part – the phrase “no shit, Sherlock” springs to mind, but I’m not quite sure what he means by “a pedigree of recording talent going back almost a century.” HMV is a shop, so its unsurprising that they should sell records (and films) that were originally made a long time ago. I just took my first-ever trip to HMV.com and was able to find more recordings from 1911 than I had ever expected, much more quickly than I could have expected. There’s “American Yodeling: 1911-1946”, “Yikhes: Early Klezmer Recordings 1911-1939” and “The Story Of Vocal Jazz 1911-1940” (a 10 CD set). So well done, HMV. Although I’m not sure what Brummer’s point is, because I could open a record shop tomorrow and it would still have a “pedigree of recording talent going back almost a century.” It would specialise in yodelling and klezmer.

“Together with other UK-based creative champions such as Warner Music as well as a host of imaginative, independent record producers, they are in danger of extinction – as is this country’s extraordinarily successful music business.”

The only way “imaginative, independent record producers” are in danger of extinction is if there is an asteroid impact or nuclear war. Warner Music is based in New York. (I’m sure it has offices in the UK. I do not believe the Daily Mail’s editorial policy is that every company with offices in the UK should be described as UK-based). If every record label went out of business tomorrow, the “music business” would still exist, although you couldn’t in all conscience describe it as “extraordinarily successful.” Then again I think it would be fair to say that if the music industry was “extraordinarily successful” it wouldn’t be in trouble.

“From Dame Vera Lynn to Tom Jones and the Beatles, Britain has long had the knack of producing music superstars capable of conquering the world.”

Google are threatening Dame Vera Lynn? Now that’s a different matter. We ought to declare war on them. It surprised me, but Vera Lynn had a nine-week Number One in America, so I’ll give him that one.

“Indeed, we are still the world’s second largest exporter of music.”

This claim, with the US in first place and Sweden in third, seems to be received wisdom, but I can’t find a reliable source for it anywhere.

“Blah blah blah creative industries banking crisis bloated public sector blah blah.”

There now follows a few tedious paragraphs about the anonymous representatives of the creative industries moaning that the Government is not investing enough in pop music and computer games and is making insufficient cuts to the bloated public sector (you know, schools, hospitals, prisons). But don’t fall asleep, or you might fail to spot that Adele went to the same school as Leona Lewis, not to mention Amy Winehouse, Imogen Heap, Jessie J, Katy B, Kate Nash, Katie Melua, the Noisettes, The Feeling, The Kooks, Athlete and Dane Bowers – a situation analogous to the number of political leaders to have emerged from Eton. You might almost forget that the creative arm of the music industry reflects the public face of government in that it runs on contacts and favours. This may or may not be a healthy situation.

So why is Cameron so fascinated by Google, its wealth, trendiness, innovation and glamour?

Note the answering of Brummer’s own question, a la “So what first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?” Note also that Brummer has failed to demonstrate that David Cameron is indeed fascinated by Google’s wealth, trendiness, innovation and glamour. Of course, to judge from the article, Brummer is above all that, being instead fascinated with the wealth, trendiness, innovation and glamour of the music industry.

“Could it be down to his media and strategy advisor Steve Hilton, the man described as the Prime Minister’s ‘best political friend’?”

I don’t know. Could it be down to the Daily Mail’s City Editor Alex Brummer, the man described as the Daily Mail’s ‘biggest idiot’?

“After all, Mr Hilton, who often wears t-shirts, pads around shoeless in No.10 and is described as a genius by admirers – has a direct line into the company”.

He wears t-shirts? I was so astonished I almost spilt my tea down the front of my t-shirt.

A few paragraphs down, we’re told that Hilton “returned to Downing Street in September 2009.” Presumably it didn’t take him long to realise he’d gone to the wrong address and to go to wherever David Cameron was at the time instead.

“The fact is that Google was encouraging Britain to throw away decades if not centuries of intellectual copyright while at the same time lobbying governments all over the world in a bid to drive a coach and horses through the laws.”

Good luck with that.

“The reason is simple. The company wants to plunder intellectual property – songs by Adele and other British singers – so that it can disseminate it free to anyone who logs onto Google anywhere in the world. The more people who log on to Google, the more the company will receive in advertising revenue. And who isn’t going to log on if all their favourite pop songs are offered for free?”

So that’s their business plan. Imagine if you could just type “Adele” into Google and listen to songs by Adele, for free. I imagine her record label XL Recordings (yes, Brummer’s poster-girl for major-label British recording industry success is signed to an independent label) would be devastated. Unless they’d uploaded her videos to Youtube for anyone to watch whenever they want for free. Why would they do a thing like that? Perhaps it’s some kind of promotional strategy. Perhaps they’ve got the misguided idea that the more people hear it, the more people will want to buy it. It’ll never work. You’d never get an album to spend 11 weeks at Number One with that kind of shoddy planning, unless you JUST DID.

And I don’t know if Brummer is aware of this, but you don’t actually need to log on (or in) to Google to use their search engine, so the answer to the question “who isn’t going to log on” is “most people, unless they want to check their email or something.”

“The Prime Minister, cocooned in his Downing Street bubble with his Google cheerleaders, seems blissfully unaware that, far from being an influence for good on the world wide web, Google has become a global predator ruthlessly gobbling up potential rivals such as YouTube and ‘stealing’ the creative work of writers, film makers and the music industry.”

Oh, where do we start with this? We could start with the idea of “good.” Brummer is unclear about his ethical system, and there certainly isn’t enough information to deduce it from the article. Just about all we know is that the music industry is “good” but Google is bad, even though both are multinational corporations which lobby governments, grow by acquisitions (ruthlessly gobbling up potential rivals such as Zavvi) and profit from the creative work of others. Thinking about it too much makes my brain hurt.

I’m not sure what those quotes around ‘stealing’ are supposed to imply. Is Brummer alleging that Google steals the creative work of others? Is he reporting that one of his unnamed contacts in the music industry has alleged this?

There follows a classic piece of doublethink where Brunner concludes that the US is “more aware of the huge cultural dangers” of Google, based on the recent court ruling against its plans to make digitized books available online, despite reporting David Cameron’s comments about Google’s view on the British copyright system versus the American one. He later mentions that the European Commission and Federal Trade Commission are both investigating Google’s alleged anticompetitive behaviour. The apparent contradiction is not resolved.

(Incidentally, if you type “search engine” into Google, the number one result is dogpile.com. Everyone uses Dogpile nowadays, right? If you type in “web browser”, the highest non-sponsored, non-Wikipedia result is Opera, while the sponsored links are, in order, Google Chrome, Lunascape and Internet Explorer 9.)

“The irony is that Google is alien to much that Britain holds dear.”

I have no idea what this means but I was amused to read it in the Daily Mail, which is alien to much that I personally hold dear.

“Our Englishman’s Castle has been turned into public property by Google Earth — which offers aerial views — and Street View, created when an army of Google cars travelled the length and breadth of the country taking pictures of our streets and our homes to put on the internet.”

The source of Brummer’s confusion could be that like the creative industries he seems to admire, he has confused being able to look at something with owning it.

What else? Outrageous fabrications about “piracy sites” and “internet buccaneers”. Assertions about what you get when you google Adele that have been shown to be wrong.

“The Government seems to believe the Internet should be free and open to everyone,” he fumes. This is probably true unless King Canute was voted back in when nobody was looking.

Then Brummer closes on an ominous note.

So the question is this: will the Government only be satisfied when every last independent book publisher and specialist music store has been closed, our recording industry hollowed out and investment in brilliant new artists — capable of taking on the world — has been eliminated.

No. Erm, yes. No, I mean no. Maybe.

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