Copyright Holders Propose Unprecedented Search Engine Manipulation

As Russia's new anti-piracy law moves through its second month of operation, amendments to the controversial law have just passed their first reading. But in addition to expanding the legislation to cover music and other digital products, entertainment companies are now seeking to meddle with search engine results on an unprecedented level. Google and Russia's leading search engine Yandex are extremely concerned by the proposals.

russsopaFollowing the introduction last month of a brand new law to hit online piracy, already authorities in Russia are looking to toughen up the legislation.

At the moment, copyright complaints against a site can lead to that domain being added to a national blocklist if its operator fails to render copyright movies and TV shows inaccessible. As reported earlier this month, moves are now underway to expand the law to cover music and other digital content.

Yesterday on the first day of the fall session the State Duma adopted the first reading of amendments that will see “information intermediaries” fined for failing to remove content or links to content reported as infringing by copyright holders. On the back of this success, rightsholders are now hoping to take things to a whole new level.

According to information obtained by Vedomosti, publishers of music, books and software have put forward amendments which will place a huge burden of responsibility not just on regular websites but also on search engines such as Google and local outfit Yandex.

The proposed amendments center around the creation of a national registry listing all music, software and books. This database will then be made available to search engines and site owners who will be required to consult it before servicing their users with links or content.

For example, if a user searches for a particular song using Google, in the background the search engine would be required to carry out a search on the national database to see if the song is listed. If the track is present then Google would be obliged to list official sources for the content in the first pages of results while automatically relegating other sites.

In addition, rightsholders are asking that when sites are placed on the current national blacklist for non-compliance with copyright takedowns, search engines should remove them completely from search results sent to users.

google-russiaCommenting on the proposals, a Google spokesperson said that “pre-moderation” of content would be damaging to the Internet industry.

“The company can not take on the role of the courts to determine whether someone’s rights have been violated. A proposal to artificially rank links in search results does not take into account the technical characteristics of search engines and would lower the quality of the search,” he said.

Yandex are equally unimpressed, noting that the amendments are a blunt instrument that do not take into consideration the nuances of search engine operation or copyright law.

“It is impossible to rank sites with an eye on a register of legal resources,” a spokesperson told Vedomosti.

“First, in itself the assignment of resources to legal or illegal is extremely controversial. Secondly, items affected by copyright and related rights can be used in some circumstances without gaining permission from copyright holders, there is a wide range of exceptions. For example, if you thoroughly follow the amendments, a search engine will not be able to provide links to works containing the quotes that users type into the query string.”

Taken to conclusion, the proposals could have a seriously chilling effect on the real-time nature of the Internet.

“[If the amendments go through], rightsholders will switch the entire Internet into pre-moderation mode, because sites can not accommodate any comment without full verification of all the materials located on the link in this comment. For the bulk of services, this task is impossible,” Yandex concludes.

Rightsholders in the United States and Europe have been pushing Google to downgrade pirate sites in search results while promoting sites offering legitimate content. Last year Google began demoting some sites in its listings and is now offering its advice to rightsholders so that they can SEO their way to the front page. In Russia, rightsholders appear to want the law to do that for them.

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