Google has been accused of helping Web site operators who are being sued for enabling online movie piracy, court documents show.
Google is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, which was filed by a group of major movie studios against two owners of sites like EasyDownloadCenter.com and TheDownloadPlace.com. The sites allegedly sold software to help people search for movies on peer-to-peer file-sharing networks and download them to their hard drive.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in 2005, alleges that the defendants created the false impression that their sites were legal and promoted them as sponsored links that were displayed when people searched for certain recently released films on Google's search site. In response to the lawsuit, the defendants deny the allegations and say Google suggested using the movie names as keywords to be purchased.
Defendant Brandon Drury did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the lawsuit and defendant Luke Sample could not be reached for comment. The defendants, both from Missouri, voluntarily stopped operating their sites, the lawsuit said.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the lawsuit on Monday. It cited unnamed sources saying the defendants also alleged that Google AdWords salespeople suggested they buy keywords including "pirated" and "bootleg movie download," and that a Google employee corroborated their sworn statements in a deposition that has been sealed by the court.
A Google representative provided this statement in response to a request for comment on the allegations: "We prohibit advertisers from using our advertising program to promote the sale of copyright infringing materials. We are continually improving our systems to screen out ads that violate these policies. Hundreds of thousands of advertisers responsibly abide by our ad content policies and we're committed to preventing those who don't from using our program."
The Journal article also said that Google held a conference call with the plaintiffs in the lawsuit on Friday. On the call, Google said it would remove certain objectionable ads, create a list of approved advertisers, not sell keywords used by sites to advertise pirated content, introduce guidelines on monitoring keywords, and train its ad sales force to recognize and avoid selling such ads, the article said.
The revelation of the lawsuit and the allegations against Google comes as the search giant navigates the treacherous copyright waters with the YouTube video-sharing site it acquired last year for $1.64 billion in stock. As Google is reportedly negotiating with media companies over copyright issues, it's also getting blasted by them over its YouTube operations. Earlier this month, Viacom ordered YouTube to take down video clips of its programs. Last week News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch questioned YouTube's business model and the new CEO of NBC Universal recently criticized Google and YouTube for dragging their feet on implementing technology to prevent piracy.