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Media groups propose anti-piracy 'code of practice' for UK search

Rights groups up in arms...

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Search engines should vet ad partners, stop all advertising on "substantially infringing sites and on search results pages that contain links to substantially infringing sites" and stop selling key words terms that are "are closely associated with piracy," the group said amongst other proposals. They said a separate code of practice was needed to govern internet advertising networks "generally".

"A code of practice for search engines should include measures to ensure that search engines do not support the business models of substantially infringing sites by supporting them with advertising and that they do not themselves profit from online infringement," the groups said.

Because of Google's "direct financial interest" in mobile applications sold to users of the Android operating system, the company should have to take particular action to address piracy in that market under the terms of the code, the groups said.

"Google (or any search engine that operates an apps platform) should: effectively screen applications to see if they are likely to substantially facilitate or encourage infringement or otherwise designed to facilitate infringement; take down mobile apps where it is aware that they are designed or known to be used to illegally download entertainment content, either via p2p [peer-to-peer] applications or unauthorized lockers; prevent apps from being reposted, or 'copycat apps' being posted, once an app has been removed as above; and terminate the accounts of developers that repeatedly post apps that facilitate infringement and prevent them registering new accounts," they said.

The code of practice should be voluntary but overseen by government which should also report on the" functioning" of the code annually, the groups said. "This would help to ensure that, while meeting its objective of ensuring that search engines play a more responsible role in reducing online infringement of copyright, the Code of Practice would act proportionally within a wider public policy objective of freedom of general access to information online and healthy competition and access to online markets," they said.

Google was also challenged to improve some of the systems it has in place at the moment to help rights holders fight piracy. The rights holder groups said the search engine should speed up the process of removing "infringing links" and automatically de-list and remove caches for any website that is the subject of a court blocking order or where a court has judged it to be "a structurally infringing site". Google's system of suggested results for partially-inputed searches should also "not in any instance direct consumers towards illegal sources for content," they said.

The groups said it was "trivially easy" for UK internet users to access illegal entertainment content through search engines. Research conducted last year by the BPI found that, on average, 16 of the first 20 links displayed on Google following searches for each of the UK's top 20 singles at the time followed by the word 'mp3' pointed to illegal copies of the music, they said. For top 20 albums, 15 of the first 20 links suggested directed users to illegal content, the rights holder groups said in its proposal document.

Similar research revealing similar results was conducted by the Publishers Association for bestselling books, whilst other searches for films, TV shows and football highlights have found that search engines are generally displaying links to illegal content higher up rankings than other sites, the groups said.

"We believe that search engines have a role to play in protecting consumers and businesses by directing users to sites which comply with the law and do not propagate illegal content, host viruses and other damaging or inappropriate content," the rights holder groups said.

"While it will remain necessary for rights-holders to send takedown notices to illegal sites, and to continue to work with search engines to improve the procedures for de-listing sites and individual content items in search results, it is clear that the current regime will not be sufficient to ensure that search engines direct consumers first and foremost to legal places to acquire digital content. To achieve that, search engines will need to do more," they said.

The proposals were criticised by the Open Rights Group (ORG) as imposing restrictions on internet user freedoms and resembling controversial anti-piracy laws under consideration in the US.

"Yet again we're facing dangerous plans to give away power over what we're allowed to see and do online. The proposals come from discussions that lack any serious analysis of the problem and boast barely a glimmer of democratic input or accountability. The government risk echoing the mistakes made in the US with the Stop Online Piracy Act. They need to stop being told what to do by a small number of businesses, and start listening to everybody else," Peter Bradwell, ORG campaigner, said in a statement.

Copyright © 2012, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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