Industry body BPI has reported more than 200m infringing links to search engine, but says tech firm needs to do more to support rights holders
Days after US music industry body the RIAA criticised YouTube over its music royalties, British equivalent the BPI has fired its latest shots at parent company Google over piracy.
The BPI is returning to a familiar line of attack, claiming that Google is not doing enough to remove links to piracy sites from its search engine.
It says it has reported more than 200m infringing links to Google since July 2011 under the search engine’s “notice and takedown” policy, where it removes individual links when notified by copyright holders.
The BPI said in a statement: “While this approach has contributed to some improved visibility of legal services, illegal results that are taken down by Google are frequently replaced by other illegal links, which means that legal services continue to be overshadowed by infringing sites in the very top search results.”
The body wants Google to adopt a different policy – or be forced to adopt it by the British government, which is mediating between the two sides – of “notice and stay down”, whereby “once a piece of content has been notified for removal by the BPI, it isn’t indexed again for the same site and stays removed”.
Piracy is a longstanding source of tension between the music industry and Google. In 2012, Google promised to start using takedown requests as a factor in its search algorithm, in theory “downranking” sites that attracted lots of piracy notices.
After regular complaints from labels that this promise had not delivered action, in 2014 Google announced that it had “now refined the signal in ways we expect to visibly affect the rankings of some of the most notorious sites”.
Eighteen months on, the BPI is calling for Google to take more steps, including lowering the threshold at which a site is de-ranked; boosting the search ranking of legal digital music services; automatically de-listing sites that have been “ruled illegal” by the UK’s high court – a reference to sites that the court has ordered British ISPs to block – taking more action against sites that change their domain in order to avoid being downranked; as well as the new “notice and stay down” strategy.
BPI chief Geoff Taylor said: “The notice and take-down system, as currently structured, cannot represent an effective response to piracy and requires urgent reform. Internet intermediaries like search engines clearly need to take more active responsibility to stop directing business to the black market.”
Google responded with a statement of its own. “We’ve reviewed more than 80 million alleged links to pirated content in the last month alone, and we have refined our algorithm to demote sites that receive high numbers of copyright takedown requests,” a spokesperson told the Guardian.
“But search is not the primary problem – all traffic from major search engines accounts for less than 16% of traffic to sites like The Pirate Bay.”
Google has previously argued publicly against several of the measures suggested by the BPI. In November 2015, its copyright counsel Cédric Manara said that a take-down, stay down policy “can have an overreaching effect and go too far. Additionally, stay down is forever, whereas copyright has a term”.
Earlier that year, Google argued in a letter to the US intellectual property office that de-listing entire sites would be “ineffective and can easily result in censorship of lawful material”.
Google has made some changes, such as its “knowledge panels” that appear on the right-hand side of its search results screen when a film or song is searched for, with links to legal services to access it. The company has also published a report on how Google fights piracy to make its defence.
24 March 2016