Digital Legal Top Stories

More pressure on Google to proactively tackle piracy

By | Published on Thursday 19 July 2012


France’s Supreme Court has ruled that there is legal justification for forcing Google to remove certain key words from its auto-complete facility, so as not to encourage users typing artist names in to the search engine to opt for search terms likely to point to unlicensed sources of content, such as “torrent” or “RapidShare”.

The Supreme Court judgement overturned earlier rulings in the lower French courts after the country’s record label trade body SNEP sought an injunction forcing the web giant to act on such auto-complete terms. The top court concluded such an injunction would be an “appropriate and proportionate measure” to help copyright owners protect their rights online.

The matter will now have to return to France’s Court Of Appeal for a final ruling on what Google will be forced to do. The web firm, of course, insists that it is a responsible player when it comes to protecting intellectual property rights online, and that it routinely balances the interests of rights owners and content users, and would no doubt point out that it has already voluntarily introduced measures to try and stop auto-complete from directing users towards pirated music and movies.

Though, of course, and as previously noted, in some parts of the music industry anti-piracy rhetoric has now shifted very much in Google’s direction, while governments around the world fiddle around with new laws to force internet service providers to take a more proactive role in policing online copyright infringement (the result of the music and movie industries’ last big push on this issue). U2 manager Paul McGuinness summarised this shift to seeing the web giant as the problem by telling MIDEM at the start of the year “it amazes me that Google has not done the right thing”.

While auto-complete terms have caused anger amongst rights owners in the past, and while some still get hot and bothered when their content appears on YouTube without permission, most annoyance amongst rights owners (and managers like McGuinness) with regards Google these days focuses on the search results people see when they type in an artist’s name – ie that, alongside and sometimes above official artist and label sites, come sites offering free content without licence.

Google, of course, will remove such links if informed about them, in compliance with American copyright law. And UK record label trade body the BPI is one of the most prolific organisations in demanding such link removals from web companies – a report by the government’s IP Crime Group this week reckons it could submit some 12 million such requests in 2012.

But there is a growing feeling in the music rights sector that this approach puts an unnecessary burden on the rights owners, and it should be the responsibility of Google itself to automatically remove offending links, especially for websites that have been proven in court to be enabling infringement (ie The Pirate Bay et al). In the US, this resentment feeds into a wider consensus that the country’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which sets out the takedown system framework that most web firm’s work to, sets the standard too low for the tech companies.

When faced with this debate on BBC2’s Newsnight last night, Google stuck with its standard line, that it is a responsible company, but that it has to balance the interests of rights owners with users. It also insists that rights owners, rather than obsessing about its search engines, should focus on websites that more tangibly profit from piracy, and go after the payment services and ad networks that enable said services to make money (something outlined, of course, in that recent joint report published by Google and PRS For Music).

Of course not everyone in the wider music industry is anti-Google, and some would likely agree with the web giant as to where rights owners and artists should prioritise their anti-piracy efforts. Though this debate is likely to rumble on for sometime.

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