Google sold advertising to two men who allegedly marketed an application designed to find and download pirated movies online, a business relationship that has angered big movie and TV studios, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The extent of Google's involvement with this allegedly rogue operation has been detailed in sworn depositions taken as part of an ongoing civil lawsuit major Hollywood studios filed against these two men in October 2005.
The defendants said under oath that Google assigned them account representatives who assisted them with their Google ad campaigns, including offering them credit and suggesting they use keywords like "bootleg movie download" and "pirated" to promote their websites, the Journal reported.
A Google employee "largely" backed up the statements from defendants Brandon Drury and Luke Sample, both residents of Missouri, the Journal reported, quoting anonymous sources familiar with the case, in which some depositions have been sealed.
EasyDownloadCenter.com and TheDownloadPlace.com generated $1.1m in revenue between 2003 and 2005, and Google received $809,000 for advertising, the Journal reported.
Upon learning that the defendants used Google to market their software, the plaintiffs, which include News Corp, Viacom International, Sony, NBC Universal, Time Warner and The Walt Disney Co., complained to the search engine company, according to the Journal.
Google responded by holding a conference call with the media companies on Friday in which it pledged to remove certain ads the companies object to, create a list of approved advertisers and stop selling keywords meant to drive traffic to pirated material, the Journal reported. Google also committed to monitor keywords more closely and to train its ad sales team on avoiding selling those types of ads.
The controversy comes at a time when Google is trying to negotiate with large media companies over the use of their material on YouTube's video uploading and sharing site, which Google acquired last year for $1.65bn.
Those negotiations are proving tough, as evidenced by fiascos like this month's decision by Viacom to demand that Google remove over 100,000 of its video clips from YouTube.
Viacom, whose properties include MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite, Comedy Central and Paramount Pictures, gave up after months of negotiations, saying Google and YouTube proved "unwilling to come to a fair market agreement”.
EasyDownloadCenter.com and TheDownloadPlace.com, which are no longer operational, didn't host any movies. Instead, they sold an application for $29.95 designed to allegedly help users search for and download pirated movies from P-to-P (peer-to-peer) file sharing networks. The defendants dispute the allegations that they induced and facilitated piracy and are thus guilty of copyright infringement and unfair competition.
Asked to comment about the Journal's report, a Google spokesman said via email that Google forbids advertisers from using its ad platform to promote the sale of copyright infringing materials. "We are continually improving our systems to screen out ads that violate these policies," he wrote.