The BPI has criticised Google – an opening sentence that could have been taken from a Music Ally story at pretty much any point in the last decade.

In March 2016, though, the topic is a familiar complaint: Google’s policy when it comes to copyright-related takedowns of search-engine results pointing to piracy sites on the web.

The spark this time is an imminent milestone: 200m infringing URLS sent to Google by the BPI since July 2011, as shown in Google’s own online Transparency Report.

It’s been a bone of contention between music rightsholders and Google for years now, despite Google’s promises to downrank sites that are regularly subject to such takedowns – and in the last couple of years, demonstrable action to do exactly that.

In a press release today, the BPI claims that Google should be doing more.

“Concerted efforts by the wider music community to build a healthy digital market have been held back by search engines and other intermediaries continuing to direct users and revenues towards sites that defraud artists and labels,” claimed the British music body, adding that its “high-volume takedown” approach only goes so far.

“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,” claimed the release.

“This damaging situation can only be remedied by Google themselves changing strategy and pro-actively pursuing a ‘notice and stay down’ approach, so that 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.”

Rightsholders of all kinds (not just music) submitted more than 558m URLs to Google for copyright-related takedowns in 2015, up 60% year-on-year according to research by news site TorrentFreak. The BPI was the most active rightsholder, reporting more than 65m URLs to Google that year.

The BPI is making some specific demands, which it hopes the British government will support as part of its current ’round table’ process to find common ground between search engines and rightsholders.

They include: “A lower threshold for the number of notices required to de-rank an illegal site and transparency over that threshold; improved discoverability of genuine sites to help consumers towards legal content; automatic de-listing of sites that have been ruled illegal by the High Court; action to prevent illegal sites avoiding demotion by swapping domain; and “notice and stay down” – once a piece of content has been notified for removal, it should not be indexed again for the same site.”

Google has responded to the BPI’s criticism this afternoon. “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. 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,” said a spokesperson.

Google has previously pushed back at such demands. In November 2015, its copyright counsel Cédric Manara explained the company’s views at the Academy of European Law’s copyright conference.

“he Internet is a game of ‘whack-a-mole’. Blocked and removed content will be reposted back online, which is a key problem. When one road is cut off, other roads will appear leading to other directions,” said Manara.

“Take down, stay down doesn’t understand an authorised user, so it can have an overreaching effect and go too far. Additionally, stay down is forever, whereas copyright has a term.”

Google has also argued against the idea of removing entire websites from its search database, in a letter to the US intellectual property office in 2015.

“Unfortunately, whole-site removal is ineffective and can easily result in censorship of lawful material,” claimed Google.

“Blogging sites contain millions of pages from hundreds of thousands of users as do social networking sites, e-commerce sites, and cloud computing services. All can inadvertently contain material that is infringing. It is rare indeed for a site to consist wholly of infringing material.”

The letter also claimed that whole-site removal would “simply drive piracy to new domains, legitimate sites, and social networks” and “sends the wrong message to other countries  by favouring over-inclusive private censorship over the rule of law”.

Music Ally is contacting Google for its response, but suffice to say the BPI is once again directing its anger squarely in the company’s direction.

“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,” said boss Geoff Taylor.

Note, it’s not just Google in the spotlight: Microsoft’s search engine may have a much lower market share, but the BPI wants it to follow suit.

“We are calling on Google and Bing to show their undiluted commitment to artists and the creative process by implementing a more pro-active solution to illegal sites appearing in search results. This will avoid the cost for both of us in dealing with hundreds of repeated notices for the same content on the same illegal sites.”

It’s currently open season (again) on Google and its YouTube subsidiary, with the BPI’s US equivalent the RIAA having targeted YouTube over ad-supported on-demand streaming revenues earlier this week – an attack that brought a swift response from YouTube.

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1 Comment

  1. Maybe Google could as least block their ads on the infringing websites. I’m sure most of these dodgy sites can’t run without revenue. Surely the “lawful” material would be able to find sufficient funding from public donations if there was any value in the data it was holding.

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