It’s common knowledge in the creative world that Google has a strange way of showing its appreciation to artists — sort of a give with one hand, take (much) more with the other approach. At the company’s grandiose (some would say overblown) I/O 2015 event yesterday we were “treated” to an example of this.

To demonstrate the new contextual search abilities of its Google Now service the company gave a shout out to Skrillex, the dubstep icon who undoubtedly receives hundreds of thousands of listens and search queries every day.

While the demonstration was impressive enough – the artist’s track spinning in Play Music and the algorithm able to establish that the unspecific voice search “what’s his name?” was referencing the artist – it was also a reminder of how Google treats
artists: worthy of attention, as long as it serves the company’s purposes to give it to them.

Sure, this demo gave a little extra exposure to Skrillex (real name: Sonny John Moore, in case you were wondering) at a high-profile media event. Whatever that’s worth is sure to be outweighed by what Google helps to take away, however, as a cursory search or check of YouTube demonstrates. 

 

Google Skrillex

The results above appear high in the search results of Google and YouTube, taking less than 10 seconds to find. Among them you’ll find video tracks containing full Skrillex album streams, bootlegs of live concert appearances, and Google’s frustratingly frequent habit of suggesting piracy-friendly searches via its ‘Autocomplete’ function. None of these are official channels, all present an easily accessible route to the artist’s work without having to pay Google’s friend Sonny one tiny dime.

Is that really artist friendly? Or is it simply attracting more use to a core Google service on the back of someone else’s content? We’ll leave you to decide.

It’s no secret that Google has a complicated relationship with artists and a checkered past in protecting their intellectual property rights. The company is happy enough to build a foundation on the hard work of musicians, yet struggles to address their most basic concerns when it comes to piracy. While it’s clear that there’s a lot of effort involved in protecting creative rights, this is a company that has spent the last two days trumpeting its latest and greatest innovations from the rooftops.

If an algorithm can judge the context of our listening to an artist, is it so much to ask that it also judges whether or not the source is legitimate? On that area of innovation Google remains, as expected, uncharacteristically bashful.