Digital Top Stories

RIAA chief calls on Google to do more to block links to piracy

By | Published on Thursday 7 June 2012


Google may have removed 31,922 links to unlicensed content files from its search engine on behalf of the Recording Industry Association Of America since last July, but the web giant could still be doing more to help protect copyrights, or so says the CEO of the American major label trade body Cary Sherman.

He made a speech as part of a Congressional hearing on ‘The Future Of Audio’ yesterday, and indicated that he would like search engines to automatically block all links to websites which notoriously enable copyright infringement, such as The Pirate Bay. Google has always resisted blanket takedown requests aimed at entire websites, arguing that goes way beyond its obligations under America’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

But, Sherman says, advertising agencies have drawn up black lists of entire websites to ensure they don’t inadvertently buy ad space alongside unlicensed content, and he thinks search engines should have a similar approach to those websites that have, through one process or another (maybe a judicial one) been shown to be liable for contributory copyright infringement.

Said Sherman: “Major advertisers and ad agencies announced a series of voluntary best practices so that their valuable brands are not associated with rogue internet sites that offer illegal goods, and advertisers don’t inadvertently enrich rogue website operators. We hope other intermediaries like search engines will follow suit in negotiating voluntary marketplace best practices to prevent directing users to sites that are dedicated to violating property rights”.

Sherman’s speech follows a blog post last week by the RIAA’s Brad Buckles which responded to that previously reported paper from Google listing which organisations had submitted the most link takedown requests in the last year, and which websites had been most commonly targeted with takedown notices. The RIAA’s 31,922 takedown requests were tiny compared to the number submitted by its UK counterpart the BPI, which had submitted 182,805 takedown notices, which was in turn dwarfed by the 536,716 requests made by Microsoft.

But, Buckles argues, those numbers – while spun as “huge” in a lot of the coverage of Google’s report – are small compared to the number of links to illegal content sources listed by the web giant’s search engine, figures which the firm is less forthcoming with. And that’s partly because the web firm puts limits on how many takedowns copyright owners can submit, the RIAA man said.

Writes Buckles: “Google acknowledged that fighting piracy is very important and that it doesn’t want search results directing people to materials that violate copyright laws. It is good to see that Google agrees with this fundamental principle and continues to take steps to deter infringement. Transparency is also important – knowing which infringing sites receive the most notices presents an important red flag regarding those sites”.

But, he added: “Even more transparency is needed to fully understand the scope of the problem. Knowing the total number of links to infringing materia available and the limitations Google imposes on rights owners to search for infringements reveals how meagre the number of notices is relative to the vast amount of infringement”.

While usually expressed in polite terms, and with some customary commendation for certain measures already introduced, both the RIAA and the International Federation Of The Phonographic Industry have been increasingly critical of Google in the last eighteen months, possibly as file-sharers have increasingly started to rely on the search engine to find sources of unlicensed content. As previously reported, last year the two trade bodies reviewed the web firm’s own previous commitments on copyright protection, concluding a lot of work still needed to be done.

With regards Sherman’s remarks, Google is unlikely to accept the principle of blocking out right certain domains from its search engine on the basis of copyright infringement, though The Pirate Bay, for one, doesn’t seem too bothered about such a suggestion. Responding to Sherman’s speech, the Bay says that only 10% of its traffic comes from search engines like Google, and that if the web giant was forced to remove all file-sharing services from its search results, it reckons it would encourage more people to go directly to the Pirate Bay.

The file-sharing site’s current operators wrote on their blog: “Our competitors at the Recording Industry Assholes of America are trying to make sure that the search engines that compete with us have to stop linking back to us. This is really great news! Right now about 10% of our traffic comes from these competing search engines. With that ban in place that means that our traffic numbers probably will increase. Users will go directly to us instead and use our search instead. We’ll grow even more massive. It’s really hard to compete with Google, but if they can’t index media search engines like us, we’ll be the dominant player in the end. So from the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU RIAA”.

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