June 29, 2017:Canada ruling could force Google to remove ‘illegal’ sites

Equustek hasn’t been on Music Ally’s radar before, as industrial automation solutions aren’t quite our editorial bag.

However, a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada involving the company is making major waves in the music industry today due to the other participant in the case – Google – and the potential impact on the way its search engine handles links to piracy websites.

The case concerned Equustek’s desire to force Google to remove websites from its global search listings if they sold goods that ‘violated’ the company’s trade secrets. The Supreme Court has now ruled that Google *can* be ordered to remove these sites worldwide.

The implications are clear for the music industry’s desire to get Google to switch ‘from take-down to stay-down’, so it will come as no surprise to learn that bodies including the IFPI, WIN, ICMP and CISAC intervened in the case to offer Equustek their support.

“Whilst this was not a music piracy case, search engines play a prominent role in directing users to illegal content online including illegal music sites,” said IFPI boss Frances Moore in a statement.

“Search engines, as gatekeepers of the Internet, should play a key role in ensuring that IPR infringements do not occur and this decision from the Canadian Supreme Court recognises this role,” said ICMP boss Coco Carmona.

“This decision represents an important step towards a fair internet for consumers and rights owners. Common sense has finally prevailed,” added WIN’s Alison Wenham.

Other opinions are available. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has criticised the ruling, for example.

“A country has the right to prevent the world’s Internet users from accessing information,” is how it framed the decision, having argued in its own intervention in the case that a decision in favour of Equustek “would expand the power of any court in the world to edit the entire Internet, whether or not the targeted material or site is lawful in another country… it’s not difficult to see repressive regimes such as China or Iran use the ruling to order Google to de-index sites they object to, creating a worldwide heckler’s veto”.

The delicate balance between copyright and free speech has rarely been better illustrated than with this ruling. We will now see what the ripple effects are: both for our industry’s continuing desire to see Google do more to tackle piracy; and for our wider society and its access to information online.

There’s nuance here: it’s entirely possible to work in the music industry and want Google to toughen up its policies on proven piracy sites, while also fretting about the implications outside music of this kind of court ruling.

Stuart Dredge
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