Digital Top Stories

IFPI considers litigation approach to bring Google in line

By | Published on Friday 17 February 2012


It’s no secret that the record industry isn’t that impressed with Google’s progress in removing links to unlicensed content sources from the lists of websites that come up when you search for an artist’s name on the market leader search engine, despite the web giant having pledged to act on such things in 2010. The International Federation Of The Phonographic Industry issued a report expressing its disappointment with Google’s anti-piracy efforts late last year, and U2 manager Paul McGuinness told MIDEM last month “it amazes me that Google has not done the right thing”.

Now it looks like those continuing frustrations could lead to litigation, despite record label trade bodies continuing to negotiate with the web giant on piracy issues, and despite more significant efforts elsewhere in the Google empire to stop copyright infringers from using the firm’s publishing platforms and ad sale services.

But it’s the fact that the Google search engine still links to websites and file-sharing networks that deal primarily in illegal content that is angering the big rights owners the most, and legal experts have now been consulted regarding the possibility of forcing the web firm’s hand through the US courts on this issue, possibly via a copyright claim, or maybe an anti-trust action, Google execs being increasingly sensitive of allegations of anti-competitive behaviour of late.

While we don’t know how serious suggestions of going legal on this issue really are, we know it’s been considered because of a document circulated to a small group of record label chiefs by the IFPI which has been published by German newspaper Handelszeitung. According to Torrentfreak, the document says: “IFPI’s litigation team, in coordination with the [Recording Industry Association Of America], is continuing to negotiate with Google to obtain better anti-piracy cooperation in various areas. [But] Google continues to fail to prioritise legal music sites over illegal sites in search results, claiming that its algorithm for search results is based on the relevance of sites to consumers”.

On going the legal route on this issue, the document continues: “With a view to addressing this failure, IFPI obtained a highly confidential and preliminary legal opinion in July 2011 on the possibility of bringing a competition law complaint against Google for abuse of its dominant position, given the distortion of the market for legitimate online music that is likely to result from Google’s prioritising of illegal sites”.

It remains to be seen if the record industry’s ongoing grievances with Google really do go legal. It’s possible some label execs hope that the mere threat of messy litigation might persuade the web firm – which has its own ambitions to be a big time music provider of course, so needs to play ball to an extent despite its own market dominance – to step up its anti-piracy efforts in the one part of its operations where it seems least willing to comply with the rights owners’ demands, ie web search.