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Digital Content Guide Hidden From View

How not to discourage this guys...Last month with much fanfare, blustering and extensive carpet bombing of media releases a group of “creative rights holders and creative content industry associations” launched the Digital Content Guide with the aim:

…gives consumers help to find licensed digital services which are availed in Australia across the film, music, TV, books and games industries and sporting codes

Basically it was presented as one stop listing for Australian consumers of places they could legally buy, download or stream digital content. Or as the Australian Home Entertainment Distributors Association CEO, Simon Bush stated to ZDnet:

The lack of availability is no longer an excuse [for copyright infringement]

But there’s just one small problem Simon. No one can find your site. And it’s all your own fault.

How To Interweb?

So why can’t anyone find this site nearly a month after launch? Is it due to hackers? Terrorists? Conspiracy by search engines because they love pirates (actual statement you occasionally see from the copyright holders)? No it just seems that the people they’ve hired to operate the Digital Content Guide website are not entirely competent. It all comes down to these two lines:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /

That’s the current robots.txt file of the Digital Content Guide. It’s looked like that since launch day and I’ve been periodically checking on it to see if it has changed. What does this mean? Well they’ve told every search engine bot that obeys robots.txt protocol that they are not allowed to index this site. At all. All the big players in the search engine space obey this setting and have dutifully not indexed the site. Which is why Google shows this when you try and locate the site on its name directly:

Oops

Now hiding the site from search engines is handy where you’re in development and you don’t want it out just yet. Typically you’d set this option, then come launch day change it to allow indexing of your content. What I suspect went wrong here is the website operators forgot that step of their launch list and have more or less ignored it ever since.

The Easy Fix

Just so we aren’t accused of being just nasty mocking people, here’s the fix guys. The Digital Content Guide is a WordPress site (like this one). Just head to your Dashboard, down to Settings and into Reading. Find this tick box:

Untick it. Save. Done. Seriously that’s it. Problem solved.

Why This Matters

While it’d be easy just to laugh this off as “ha look at the internet newbies!” and chortling to ourselves, this lack of understanding when it comes to important internet concepts has massive implications given what the same groups represented by this website are demanding.

Right now there is a lot of heavy push from the entities behind this website to introduce tough new anti-piracy laws in Australia wanting everything from blocking piracy websites outright to getting access via other proposed data retention laws to information that would allow them to directly sue supposed copyright infringers.

While little to no focus has been put on availability or cost issues surrounding digital content in Australia (something I’ve written about previously) there has been a huge push for technical solutions instead from these major stake holders. The Digital Content Guide was presented as a sort of halfway measure to alleviate complaints about availability and access but when the site has been online for a month and they haven’t noticed this very simple stuff up, you’ve got to wonder if it is really meant to be useful to the average Australian user or if it was just a PR exercise to make it seem like they were making the effort.

Add to this the shellacking the Digital Content Guide got at launch time for not being a terribly useful resource to begin with (see here and here) combined with the fact it doesn’t seem to have been updated at all (for example the eBook section is still empty despite plenty of legal sources for these in Australia) it really does look more like a half hearted PR exercise with no real expected future use.

Yet these are the guys that want to have special courts, laws, rules and even technological barriers put in place despite showing that they either don’t know or care how the internet operates. This is deeply troubling, especially when they seem to have such a sway over current discussions.

I firmly believe that copyright holders and creative minds should be reimbursed for their time and energy. I have quite a large (and legally purchased) movie collection. I do not condone copyright infringement in any form but the idea you can solve it through purely technological and legal means is ludicrous. Listen to your audience, change your business plans to meet new demands. Don’t waste your money on websites that you have no intention of people be able to find instead.

Update Oct 23rd 2014

It appears someone either found this article or finally figured out how the robots.txt works and the Digital Content Guide now actually appears in search results. Shame they still haven’t bothered to update the sites content however (e.g still nothing listed for purchasing eBooks).