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Italy has a clumsy new pirate-choker law. But can anyone do better?

Vado a bordo, cazzo gratuitomane

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Golden Google saves the day! Or maybe not

Google's Simon Morrison explained the internet giant's policy position. Google takes down 97.5 per cent of complaints within six hours, he said.

He defended the role Google own ad network had played in propping up pirate sites.

"We make sure our ad networks are not funding bad behaviour," he said. "Fewer than one per cent of websites have Google advertisements on them", he said, which demonstrated Google is "doing quite a good job". [That's still up to 500,000 websites – Ed]

He had a moan about the music industry asking Google to demote pirate sites in its search results. It now does this, he explained, so pirate sites will appear lower in the rankings for artist search terms. What the industry now wanted was lower rankings for search terms with the word "mp3" or "download" appended, or with a specific song or album title. But these are less popular, Morrison explained. The term "carly rae jepson call me maybe" is sixteen times more popular than "carly rae jepson call me maybe mp3". "django unchained" is 1,000 times more popular than "django unchained free download". He didn't give absolute numbers. Do you think the search term "django unchained free download" is a rare one?

Morrison also defended Google's use of Chilling Effects, a site which logs copyright infringement requests. Google makes several warnings to anyone who dares file a quite legitimate notice. As these parents found out, it's bullying - you have to be quite determined and confident to complete the procedure. It makes you the criminal. Morrison did admit that Google funded Chilling Effects.

All this was a bit much for one attendee, Simon Bourne from music rights society the PRS. Had Google ever made a single step to help copyright enforcement off its own bat, a pro-active measure that hadn't been demanded of them, he asked. He noted that there were tons of free legal music sites, so the argument that industries needed to do more only went so far.

He also ripped into Chilling Effects - not for effect of chilling the victims of copyright infringement, but for giving pirates a helpful database. He also pointed out that Google was found by an academic study to be in the top three ad networks advertising on commercial pirate operations.

Morrison replied that Google had "methodological issues" with the Annenberg study, and "once they were addressed we fell out of the rankings". He rejected the idea that Chilling Effects was a catalogue of contraband - "the interface makes searching difficult" - and he didn't answer the first question.

Bourne returned to the fray. "The problem is not Chilling Effects, it's the fact that Google has links to notices it has sent to Chilling Effects", and drops these conveniently into the organic search results.

One click shopping

As a welcome contrast to the enforcement, lawyer Serena Tierney gave an update on the UK copyright hub, something that's unique to the UK. She prefaced this with an entertaining brief history of copyright in the UK, involving Steve Hilton, David Cameron's visit to Google, the IPO's former “copyright czar” Ed Quilty and the bien pensant academic Ian Hargreaves.

The Hub is designed to automate licensing of high volume copyright material, like photos, and the goal is to allow search engines to integrate with it. So when you find an image you like in the Google Image Search results, up pops up the licensing info - and you can grab it for use in a click. In Tierney's words, "as you click on it you'll get the rates".

It isn't for everybody, but in cases such as using a copyrighted image for your wedding invitation, or blog, it fills a major gap. Today, people either don't use the image, or just nick it anyway. Tierney said the Hub was now funded by industry and had won a TSB catapult for development grant. We'll bring you more detail here at a later date.

Comment

Enforcing digital rights is notorious amongst tech-savvy readers because - and this is a quite legitimate argument - it can be used (and has been used) by rights industries instead of creating exciting new digital businesses. Yet there isn't a serious argument, at least amongst grown ups, that you can have a healthy market without some enforcement somewhere along the illegal, unlicensed supply chain. And nobody can say the digital economy is exactly booming today, or remotely as good as it could be. Even Google didn't really try to make that argument.

So the question is, where do you do it most effectively and fairly? One response is: Don't smack end users – smack the Kim Dotcoms, who are large scale infringers. Then, when Kim Dotcom gets smacked, the cry goes up - don't smack the Kim Dotcoms!

More plausibly, Google's Morrison argued for industries to introduce legal competitors to unlicensed downloads and streaming. One thing seems certain. If you consistently say "No, grazie" to any kind of enforcement, you get very bad and clumsy attempts at enforcement. The Italian AGCOM looks like a very clumsy law indeed. ®

Bootnote

*Resiled - “Abandon a position or a course of action”, according to the online OED. So now you know.

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