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Search engines may sign up to voluntary anti-piracy code this summer

By | Published on Friday 10 February 2017

Google is seemingly close to signing up to a voluntary agreement with the music and movie industries over the links to piracy sites that appear in its search results. The agreement is the outcome of roundtables instigated by the government’s Intellectual Property Office and could take affect this summer.

While the music industry’s regular ranting about YouTube has been particularly newsworthy in recent years, the record companies have been griping about Google’s search engine for much longer. Rights owners wish that Google – and other search engines – would do more to stop search results including links to copyright infringing material, especially high up in those result lists.

Google, of course, allows rights owners to request the removal of links that go through to unlicensed content, but they must do so on a link-by-link basis, rather than being able to ask the search engine to remove anything that links through to sites like The Pirate Bay. The web firms insist that they can’t be the police of the internet – and express concerns about site-wide delisting – though the record industry counters that where a court has ordered web-blocks against sites like the Bay, there shouldn’t be any such concerns.

The record industry has been pushing the Googles of this world to do more in this domain for years. Google has introduced some anti-piracy initiatives, but for the music industry those haven’t gone far enough – indeed some at the labels would accuse the web giant of mainly paying lip service to its responsibilities in this domain, rather than actively pushing links to copyright infringing content down or preferably off its search lists.

To that end, the music industry – especially in the UK – has been quietly lobbying government for it to introduce new rules to oblige search engines to play ball, most recently as part of the ongoing Digital Economy Bill discussions.

It was during a debate on the DEB in the House Of Lords earlier this week that government rep Peta Buscombe revealed that not only were talks between the search engines and the copyright industries ongoing in a bid to create some sort of voluntary code for combating piracy, but it seems like some progress has been made.

Said Buscombe: “IPO officials have chaired a further round-table meeting between search engines and representatives of the creative industries. While there are still elements of detail to be settled, the group is now agreed on the key content of the code and I expect an agreement to be reached very soon. All parties have also agreed that the code should take effect, and the targets in it be reached, by 1 Jun this year”.

She added: “The search engines involved in this work have been very co-operative, making changes to their algorithms and processes, but also working bilaterally with creative industry representatives to explore the options for new interventions, and how existing processes might be streamlined. I understand that all parties are keen to finalise and sign up to the voluntary agreement, and so we believe there is no need to take a legislative power at this time”.

It remains to be seen quite what that code involves, and whether the 1 Jun deadline for launch can be reached.