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UK search engines sign up to anti-piracy code

By | Published on Monday 20 February 2017


Google and Microsoft’s Bing – which is, we can confirm, still a thing – have both signed up to a new voluntary code of practice which should see the search engines do more to demote links to copyright infringing websites and push users towards licensed sources of music, movies and other content.

As previously reported, government whip Peta Buscombe recently told the House Of Lords that officials from the Intellectual Property Office had recently “chaired a further round-table meeting between search engines and representatives of the creative industries” and that “the group is now agreed on the key content of a code and I expect an agreement to be reached very soon”. The voluntary code meant that no measures were required in the current Digital Economy Bill to force the search engines into action, the peer added.

The music and movie industries have long argued that search engines should do more to demote and delist links to copyright infringing websites and material, especially if a court of law has ruled that a website is liable for infringement. Google has some measures in place to help rights owners – based around the takedown process via which content companies can demand individual links be removed from its database – though the record companies and movie studios have long argued these measures don’t go far enough.

The web giants have, in the main, resisted efforts to make them do more to police their search engine databases, though the music industry has long hoped that the threat of new legal obligations might pressure the likes of Google to commit to do more. That is seemingly what has now happened, with record industry trade group the BPI leading the charge for the music industry.

Although it remains to be seen just what new measures the code of practice will result in, the BPI said in a statement that the new voluntary agreement will “kickstart collaboration between the parties to demote links to websites that are dedicated to infringing content for consumers in the UK. The code will accelerate the demotion of illegal sites following notices from rights holders, and establishes ongoing technical consultation, increased co-operation and information sharing to develop and improve on the process. It will also enable new practices to be adopted where needed”.

One area where the rights owners hope for more progress is in the autocomplete suggestions Google provides to users. The web firm has already removed some key words from its autocomplete options – such as the names of major piracy platforms – though again the rights owners think that there is more that can be done to use this functionality to prioritise legitimate sources of content online

The new code of conduct has been welcomed by the record and movie industries, as well as the Alliance For IP, which brings together trade bodies from across the different copyright industries.

For the BPI, boss man Geoff Taylor said: “BPI has long campaigned for search engines to do more to ensure fans are directed to legal sources for music or other entertainment. There is much work still to do to achieve this. The code will not be a silver bullet fix, but it will mean that illegal sites are demoted more quickly from search results and that fans searching for music are more likely to find a fair site”.

Noting that this code is something of a “world-first”, Taylor added: “We are grateful for the support from UK government both for this code and for the ‘Get It Right’ campaign that encourages fans to support the artists they love. We look forward to working with Google, Microsoft and our partners across the creative industries to build a safer, better online environment for creators and fans”.

Speaking for the Motion Picture Association, Stan McCoy said: “Pirate websites are currently much too easy to find via search, so we appreciate the parties’ willingness to try to improve that situation. We look forward to working on this initiative alongside many other approaches to fighting online piracy. We are grateful for the government’s involvement and support on this issue”.

While Eddy Leviten at the Alliance For IP added: “The Alliance has been present throughout the discussions and has consistently made the case for a collaborative process that works for all rights holders and creators and starts to help the UK’s intellectual property generators to promote and sell their works without unfair competition. Whilst there is still a lot of work ahead I would like to thank ministers, past and present, and [government] officials for their help in getting us to this crucial stage”.