The UK government plans to review Google’s previously reported pledge to downgrade the listing of unlicensed file-sharing websites in its search results, according to The Guardian. Ministers are still trying to decide whether new legislation is required to force Google, and other search engines, to play a more proactive role in stopping unlicensed websites from reaching web users.
As previously reported, the fact that many illegal sources of content appear high up when a web user types an artist name into the Google search engine has been one of the music industry’s key piracy gripes this year. Labels themselves have been putting pressure on the web giant to downgrade unlicensed websites in its algorithms while negotiating over the Google Play music service, while lobbyists for the music, movie and other content industries have been moaning to political types about the issue too.
While Google bosses, in common with the management at most big web firms, are reluctant to become the piracy police, and sometimes point out that one of the reasons unlicensed content sites outperform legit set ups in their search engine is simply because the former have better SEO, the web company can’t afford to completely piss off the big rights owners it is trying to woo for its own content services, or political types who are taking an ever increasing interest in the business’s operations.
To that end, Google has introduced various measures over the last couple of years to reduce the benefits of its search and other services to websites that prolifically infringe copyright, including making it harder for such sites to rate highly in Google searches, and also stopping them from profiting from the Google Adwords platform. And in August the web firm announced that websites that are subject to large numbers of legitimate takedown notices under the American copyright system would be automatically downgraded in Google search.
However, while the music and other content industries have welcomed each of these measures, some rights owners reckon that Google could and should be doing a whole lot more. The UK government, while occasionally matey with senior Googlers, is also sympathetic to that viewpoint, and will now review how effective Google’s own anti-piracy measures have been, before considering whether additional statutory obligations should be introduced as part of the long awaiting new Communications Bill. Ministers are likely to meet with all relevant stakeholders, including Google, before Christmas.
Referencing Google’s most recent anti-piracy initiative, a spokesman for the UK Department Of Culture, Media & Sport told reporters: “The Department is aware of the concerns raised by rights holders that this has not had the impact that they hoped, and, together with industry, we now need to review the effect of the technical change made by Google and consider our options. This is part of a wider campaign to tackle online infringement, which includes working together with payment facilitators (such as credit card companies) and online advertising bodies to reduce the revenue flowing to seriously infringing – often criminal – sites”.
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