Copyright Industry Calls For Broad Search Engine Censorship

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At a behind-closed-doors meeting facilitated by the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport, copyright holders have handed out a list of demands to Google, Bing and Yahoo. To curb the growing piracy problem, Hollywood and the major music labels want the search engines to de-list popular filesharing sites such as The Pirate Bay, and give higher ranking to authorized sites.

censoredIt’s no secret that the entertainment industries believe search engines are not delivering enough when it comes to protecting copyright works. Just last month, the RIAA and IFPI accused Google of massively profiting from piracy, while putting up barriers to make life difficult for rightsholders.

If the copyright industry had their way, Google and other search engines would no longer link to sites such as The Pirate Bay and isoHunt. In a detailed proposal handed out during a meeting with Google, Yahoo and Bing, various copyright holders made their demands clear.

The document, which describes a government-overlooked “Voluntary Code of Practice” for search engines, was not intended for public consumption but the Open Rights Group obtained it through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

In short, the rightsholders want the search engines to make substantial changes so that pirated content becomes harder to find, or is de-listed entirely. In addition, they want to boost the rankings of licensed content. Below are the three new measures they propose.

  • Assign lower rankings to sites that repeatedly make available unlicensed content in breach of copyright
  • Prioritize websites that obtain certification as a licensed site under a recognised scheme
  • Stop indexing websites that are subject to court orders while establishing suitable procedures to de-index substantially infringing sites

In the document rightsholders explain that they find it inexcusable that some websites – Pirate Bay and Isohunt in particular – are still indexed by all major search engines even though courts have ruled they facilitate copyright infringement.

Not surprisingly, there is no mention of the collateral damage that such a broad filter would bring with it – many artists and other legitimate individuals are known to use these websites to share their works.

The document further details how many of the top search results for music, movies and books currently link to pirated copies. In order to stop this, the rightsholders propose that Google and other search engines systematically assign a lower ranking to possibly infringing pages.

“We propose that in order to further protect consumers and to encourage responsible behaviour among websites, the extent of illegal content on a website should become a factor influencing the ranking of that website in search results returned to consumers,” they write.

This should be doable according to the rightsholders, as Google already influences its search results based on various other criteria, such as the lower rankings that are assigned to so-called content farms.

“Given that Google already de-ranks and de-lists sites that do not meet its own ‘quality guidelines’ or otherwise violate its policies, we do not believe that search engines would face significant legal exposure if they were to de-rank or de-list sites using an objective measure, based on their actions in response to legal DMCA complaints, in pursuit of the legitimate objective of preventing their service being used to facilitate copyright infringement,” they write.

Conversely, it’s argued that search engines should also boost the ranking of legitimate sites for certain ‘relevant’ searches. A list of relevant terms to match to these relevant searches should be provided by pro-copyright groups. In the proposal, the rightsholders give the following example in the case of music files.

“We would propose that prioritisation be enabled for searches that contain any of the following key search terms: “mp3”, “flac”, “wma”, “aac”, “torrent”, “download”, “rip”, “stream” or “listen”, “free”, when combined with an artist name, song or album title contained on a list to be regularly updated and provided to a search engine by a recognised and properly mandated agency representing rights holders for a particular sector, such as BPI.”

Aside from these new proposals, the document also calls on the search engines to improve the censorship measures already in place, such as Google’s keyword filter for their “instant” and “autocomplete” services.

Although the proposal from the rightsholders is not a direct threat as it is a long way from being accepted, it clearly shows that rightsholders see censorship as the way forward. The search engines on the other hand were not impressed and are expected to supply a proposal of their own in a future meeting. Again behind closed doors.

The proposals


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