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Select committee calls on government to do more on copyright protection, and hits out at Google

By | Published on Thursday 26 September 2013

Houses Of Parliament

Parliament’s Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee has, perhaps unsurprisingly considering its remit, come out strongly in support of the creative industries’ ongoing efforts to crack down on piracy, criticising the government for ploughing ahead with new fair dealing exemptions while letting the piracy portion of the 2010 Digital Economy Act sit in limbo. Though the real harsh words are reserved for Google, with the committee endorsing the music industry’s favourite piracy gripe of late, the continued presence of links to vast amounts of unlicensed content on search engines.

In a new report the committee commends “the extraordinary success of the UK’s creative industries” and the individuals and organisations that “contribute over £36 billion annually to the UK economy”, but says this success is now jeopardised by a “dilution of intellectual property rights and the failure to tackle online piracy”. A string of subsequent recommendations include a proposed increase in the sentences for serious online IP theft, more scrutiny on the planned introduction of more copyright exceptions (as proposed by the Hargreaves Review), and tax reforms to “adequately recognise the freelance nature of much creative work”.

Launching his report, the committee’s long-standing chair John Whittingdale told reporters: “Britain’s creative industries are of huge importance to our economy and as successful as any in the world. We are blessed in the UK with extraordinary creativity which is backed up by superb training in technical skills and a supportive tax regime. However, all this will be put at risk if creators cannot rely on a strong framework of intellectual property rights which are robustly enforced. The delays in implementing measures to prevent piracy in the Digital Economy Act are costing the creative industries millions of pounds with serious consequences for the wider economy”.

He goes on: “We very much welcome recent moves to obtain a voluntary agreement between rights owners and internet service providers to take measures to deter illegal file-sharing. However, if this fails to materialise, the government must use the powers given to it by parliament in the Digital Economy Act. In addition, we are very concerned that the Hargreaves’ proposals to introduce certain copyright exceptions may create loopholes and dilute the protection of intellectual property rights. We are unconvinced of the claimed benefits that will result and believe that at the very least they require much closer scrutiny with clearer definitions and more evidence in support”.

And as for big bad Google, well: “We are also unimpressed by Google’s continued failure to stop directing consumers to illegal, copyright infringing material on the flimsy excuse that some of the sites may also host some legal content. The continuing promotion of illegal content through search engines is simply unacceptable, and efforts to stop it have so far been derisory. There is no reason why they cannot demote and ultimately remove sites hosting large amounts of illegal material from search engine results”.

He goes on: “Google and others already work with international law enforcement to block, for example, child porn from search results and it has provided no coherent, responsible reason why it can’t do the same for illegal, pirated content. Copyright infringement is a serious crime that threatens our economic future”.

Although we await a specific response regards Whittingdale’s remarks, Google frequently claims that it is going above and beyond its duties to help copyright owners protect their rights, publishing regular reports that hone in on the potential of the Google Play platform, the ContentID system on YouTube, it’s search link takedown operation, and changes to the Google search algorithm to prioritise legit content (even though content owners claim those changes did little). The web giant also regularly insists that the copyright industries should be going after the operators of profitable piracy sites by cutting off their revenue streams. Presumably a similar list will appear in any new response to Whittingdale.

Meanwhile Jo Dipple, CEO of the music industry’s cross-sector trade group UK Music, welcomed the select committee report, telling CMU: “The committee is right to say that the continuing promotion by search engines of illegal content on the internet is unacceptable. Google has to stop feeding up unlicensed free content. Google has to start acknowledging the responsibility it has to the consumers it serves. It is very un-British to ride so roughshod over our customers. It has to stop”.

“The report is also right to say that hasty legislation in this area might compromise new business-to-business deals and, ultimately, ministers might regret interfering in these markets. I intend to discuss the findings in this report next week with Secretary Of State Maria Miller when we host a panel with her at the Conservative Arts And Creative Industries Networking event in Manchester”.



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