The UK Minister for Culture plus representatives from the MPAA, BPI, Google and four major ISPs met for a roundtable discussion on the issue of online piracy last month. The minutes of the meeting suggest that not only are the parties keen for site blocking to continue, but are considering whether the same High Court mechanism could be used to provide Google with a legal basis on which to delist sites.
Following the passing of the UK’s Digital Economy Act in 2010, one of the remaining big questions is when ISPs will begin sending out warning letters to subscribers suspected of illicit file-sharing.
There has been delay after delay, but yesterday Mark Jackson of ISPreview broke the news that the Department for Culture, Media & Sport had confirmed that the previous target of early 2014 will no longer be met. The notices are now expected to go out during the second half of 2015.
However, the revelation didn’t come from any official announcement but from the minutes of an anti-piracy roundtable held in May and hosted by UK Minister for Culture Ed Vaizey. A copy obtained by TorrentFreak shows that the meeting was attended by a who’s who of rightsholders, anti-piracy groups and ISPs, including the MPAA, BPI, FACT, Google and the Premier League, plus BT, Virgin, TalkTalk and Sky.
Perhaps unsurprisingly at this point is how rightsholders and the authorities are increasingly putting pressure on Google. Ed Vaizey said the UK Government now wants to see the issue of infringing search results “addressed and producing tangible results.”
The usual complaints came from Ian Moss, the BPI’s Director of Public Affairs, over the apparent lack of progress demonstrated by Google following the earlier tweaking of its search algorithm. Autocomplete, Moss said, is still suggesting illegal sites in response to user searches.
Theo Bertram, UK Policy Manager for Google, countered that progress had been made but conceded there was more to be done. Over time the algorithm would yield better results, Bertram said.
Censoring search via legal action?
While the wrangling over algorithm adjustment has been heard many times before, what followed next appears to be something quite new. Noting that an analysis is under way to investigate the role of search engines on infringement, the discussion turned to how the law might have a role to play in manipulating search results.
Section 97a of Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 is currently being used by the MPAA and BPI to have sites such as The Pirate Bay and KAT.ph blocked by UK ISPs, but could it have additional usefulness when it comes to dealing with search?
The meeting suggested that s97a could provide Google with a legal basis on which to remove sites from its search rankings.
Rightsholders could “apply to the courts to establish principles on which Google could base decisions to remove sites from rankings,” the MPAA’s Chris Marcich said.
Current site blocking
New uses for S97a aside, the current process appears to be going quite well, at least as far as the rightsholders are concerned.
The BPI and MPAA told the meeting that the court procedure to have sites blocked in the UK had become “increasingly efficient and quick” on the back of ISPs becoming more comfortable with the process and copyright holders getting a better grasp on the kind of evidence required by the court.
However, for reasons not made clear, the MPAA doesn’t consider the process quick enough to deal with “streaming websites.”
Another area discussed was the advertising being placed on unauthorized content sites. Peter Szyszko of whiteBULLET said his company has a system in place funded by ad networks looking to protect their brands. It contains a database of 150,000 sites which have been scored for ad suitability.
Szyszko said that rightsholders could use his company’s system to measure the advertising on “high-risk” sites so that decisions could be made on “compliance action.” Lavinia Carey of the Federation Against Copyright Theft expressed support for such independent automated systems and said they could prove useful for evidence purposes.
Bill Bush, Director of Communications and Public Policy at Premier League, raised the issue of online gambling sites advertising on sites illegally streaming live sport. He questioned whether this problem could be addressed not via copyright legislation, but through the Remote Gambling Bill. Ed Vaizey said he would follow this up through the Minister for Sport and Tourism’s office.
Finally, as revealed earlier this week, the music and movie industries are working more closely than ever with police in the UK. FACT’s Lavinia Carey told the meeting that copyright owners had been working with the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau to compile a register of infringing sites. That work, she said, would be completed soon.