US tech giants Google and Microsoft have reached a truce with the Government and the creative industries in a bitter and long-running battle over links to pirated films and music online.
The search engine operators have signed up to a clampdown that will see the UK’s copyright watchdog monitor the search results they provide for unlawful websites.
The agreement follows years of campaigning by record labels and film studios, which have accused Google and Microsoft of turning a blind eye to piracy and dragging their feet over measures to protect copyright online.
Jo Johnson, the minister for universities, science, research and innovation, said that the search engines’ “relationships with our world leading creative industries needs to be collaborative”.
“It is essential that [consumers] are presented with links to legitimate websites and services, not provided with links to pirate sites,” he said.
Under a new voluntary code, the tech giants have committed to demote websites that have repeatedly been served with copyright infringement notices, so that they do not appear on the first page for common searches. Search engine autocomplete functions, a time-saving feature that suggests what users may be looking for, should also remove terms that may lead to pirate websites rather than legitimate services that pay fees to copyright holders.
Compliance with the code will be monitored by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) over the next few months. In the summer the watchdog could recommend further action by the Business Secretary Greg Clark, potentially triggering legislation that imposes fines and other sanctions.
Geoff Taylor, chief executive of BPI, which represents record labels, said the code would not be a silver bullet for copyright holders.
He added: “We have long campaigned for search engines to do more to ensure fans are directed to legal sources for music or other entertainment. There is much work still to do to achieve this. The Code will not be a silver bullet fix, but it will mean that illegal sites are demoted more quickly from search results and that fans searching for music are more likely to find a fair site.”
The Government brokered the truce following a manifesto commitment to protect Britain’s creative industries Stan McCoy of the Motion Picture Association said: “Pirate websites are currently much too easy to find via search, so we appreciate the parties’ willingness to try to improve that situation.”
Matt Hancock, the digital economy minister, said: “We are one of the world’s leading digital nations and we have a responsibility to make sure that consumers have easy access to legal content online. “Pirate sites deprive artists and rights holders of hard-earned income and I’m delighted to see industry-led solutions like this landmark agreement, which will be instrumental in driving change.”
Google has argued that search engines are not a major source of traffic to piracy websites. A spokesman said: “Google has been an active partner for many years in the fight against piracy online. We remain committed to tackling this issue and look forward to further partnership with rights holders.”
According to the IPO, around 15pc of UK internet users, or around 6.7m Britons, access pirated films, music, books and other material online.
Although the code is voluntary, the IPO will monitor how Google and Bing respond over the next few months. In the summer it can recommend further action by the Business Secretary Greg Clark which could lead to legislation that imposes fines or other measures.
Matt Hancock, the minister for digital and culture, said: “We are one of the world’s leading digital nations, and we have a responsibility to make sure that consumers have easy access to legal content online. Pirate sites deprive artists and rights holders of hard-earned income and I’m delighted to see industry led solutions like this landmark agreement which will be instrumental in driving change.”
Google has long argued that search engines are not a major source of traffic to piracy websites. A spokesman said: “Google has been an active partner for many years in the fight against piracy online. We remain committed to tackling this issue and look forward to further partnership with rights holders.”
One in six internet users access pirated content according to the IPO, although this is falling amid the rise of legal streaming services.
\\ Source Telegraph //