Rupert Murdoch’s efforts on Twitter so far have included the occasional case of humility. On Friday he stated the bleeding obvious in admitting about Myspace “we screwed up in every way possible, learned lots of valuable expensive lessons”.
Investors wondering about whether the 80-year-old mogul from the days of linotype had improved his understanding of the internet since he wasted $580 million on Myspace, however, might have been alarmed to see him launch a campaign against Google on the weekend. “So Obama has thrown in his lot withSilicon (sic) Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery,” he tweeted yesterday. “Piracy leader is Google who streams movies free, sells advts around them. No wonder pouring millions into lobbying.”
It was a bizarre and probably actionable claim, made in response to the fact that momentum behind the odious Stop Online Piracy Act had faltered in the US. The bill, which would in effect establish a US internet filter and enable the removal of websites via Domain Name System administration, appeared unstoppable before Christmas, but the White House has now indicated its opposition, and even the bill’s own backers in Congress have proposed withdrawing the DNS provisions and delaying the bill.
This plainly infuriated Murdoch, who as head of News Corporation is a senior figure in the vastly powerful US copyright industry, which has exploited links between Hollywood and Congress, particularly Democrats, to engineer bill after bill aimed at disrupting filesharing — wholly unsuccessfully — for a decade.
The claim that Google was a “piracy leader” that “streams movies for free” appear more like the addled ravings of an old technophobe than a serious statement, and Murdoch was clearly stung by the reaction. “Understand more than all allege! Google great company doing many exciting things. Only one complaint, and it’s important,” he later tweeted. “Just been to google search for mission impossible. Wow, several sites offering free links. I rest my case.”
That a man in charge of investing billions of dollars in the media industry doesn’t understand the difference between a search engine and what it links to should be deeply troubling to News Corporation investors, about as troubling as his insistence that no one ever told him or his son about the extensive crimes being perpetrated by senior figures in News International in the UK.
“Google doesn’t pirate and it doesn’t hack dead girls, @rupertmurdoch. I am so happy I pulled my book from you,” tweeted American journalist Jeff Jarvis. Google’s response, so far, has been rather level-headed.
Still, it wasn’t as bizarre as his complaint about Google “spending millions” lobbying. The copyright industry has a vast lobbying apparatus designed to achieve its legislative goals and News Corp is no exception. The opensecrets.org website has an up-to-date tally of News Corp’s expenditure on lobbying in 2011, which amounted to US$5.2 million, only $2 million shy of Google’s US$7.2 million (US$1.3 million of which related to telco regulation). The Motion Picture Association of America, of which News Corp is a member through a subsidiary, spent US$1.3 million on lobbying. The Recording Industry Association of America, of which News Corp is also a member via a subsidary, spent US$4.4 million.
Still, if only one of News Corp’s many tabloids would apply to Murdoch the sort of scrutiny that they insist on applying to other public figures. One of the critics of SOPA was a US government agency that told the Congressional Homeland Security sub-committee that the bill would undermine current efforts to improve internet security.
In short, Murdoch is backing something that has grave corporate and national security implications.
Maybe no one’s told him that, either.