Griping over counterfeit software sellers, firm calls Google 'gateway to criminals'

Google is enemy No. 1 for Rosetta Stone. 

The Arlington-based software company, which sells language instruction programs, is doing battle with the search giant in the courts and on Capitol Hill. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Rosetta Stone's gripe is that counterfeit software sellers buy search ads on Google, appearing above the natural search listings. The ads link to sites that sell, among other items, faux Rosetta Stone products.

According to chief executive Tom Adams, the ads often include the trademarked name "Rosetta Stone."

"Think of Google as the gateway for criminals into America as it's currently configured," Adams said in an interview with The Hill. 

As Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) prepares to reintroduce the Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act (COICA), Rosetta Stone wants the bill to make Google liable for presenting paid search ads that link to counterfeit sites.

Rosetta Stone wages that a provision of the bill, as it was configured last year, exempts search companies including Google, Yahoo and Microsoft from such a liability. 

In contrast, the legislation puts ad providers and domain-name companies on the hook when they play host to counterfeiters. "It's because they have less influence on members," Adams said.

A Google spokeswoman said Rosetta Stone's "exaggeration doesn’t belong in a serious conversation."  

"We are very aggressive in our efforts to crack down on bad actors, as courts both in this country and abroad have acknowledged, and we look forward to working with the committee and other stakeholders to address this issue responsibly," she said. 

Search defenders say counterfeiting grievances against Google simply constitute the content industry looking for stringent regulations on searches. 

In Adams's view, however, profit is driving Google to tolerate counterfeiters who operate extensive counterfeiting networks in China and Russia.

A crackdown would mean more than $1 billion in foregone revenue for Google, by Rosetta Stone's calculations. Adams focuses on Google more than other search companies because of its dominant position in the search market. 

"It's simple," he said. "They want to make money." 

Google also has a positive reputation to help it through the legislative process, he said. "It's a company that claims it does no evil," he said. "For those who look closely at it, that's a sick joke." (In Google's defense, the motto also has been a target for harsh criticism in Washington.)

Rosetta Stone is making sure it gets heard on Capitol Hill as well. The company spent $200,000 last year on lobbying, and Adams testified in a COICA hearing in February. The act is expected soon, but not this week, as Leahy focuses on his patent bill in the coming days. 

Rosetta Stone is also going after Google in court, focusing on the use of the Rosetta Stone trademark in paid search ads. 

Various companies that face similar difficulties with piggy-backers using their trademark, such as Ford Motor Co. and Burlington Coat Factory, have filed supportive briefs.

For Rosetta Stone, the counterfeit sales represent a huge concern because customers who buy knock-off products often wind up complaining to the real company when their product does not work. 

"Our position is to help them as best as we can — so we may offer them a discount," Adams said. "But essentially they've just been screwed, and Google helped that happen."