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Culture Secretary Sajid Javid has threatened to introduce legislation if Google doesn’t stop promoting pirate sites above legitimate sites in its organic search results.

“Search engines also have to play their part. They must step up and show willing,” Sajid Javid told the BPI at their AGM yesterday.

“That’s why Vince Cable and I have written to Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, asking them to work with you to stop search results sending people to illegal sites. And let me be perfectly clear: if we don’t see real progress, we will be looking at a legislative approach.”

With a wide range of Netflix, Now TV and Spotify (and their many clones) promoting legal access to movies TV and music, companies are livid that Google still promotes pirate sites in its “organic” search results, despite fully knowing that they’re criminal operations.

The BPI has sent Google 93 million infringement notices – more than any other single business has received. A handful of sites hosting infringing content – or networks of related domains – crop up repeatedly. The figures would be more but Google caps the number of inbound infringement notices it says it will look at. Last year the BPI found 77 per cent of first-page results for single music tracks linked to unlicensed sites and 64 per cent of searches for albums linked to pirate operations.

Rogue pharmacies, Adwords and half a BEEELLION dollars

One is reminded of the time Google turned a blind eye to rogue pharmacies using its Adwords advertising business, being warned repeatedly that it was operating illegally, until a joint FBI and Food and Drug Administration sting operation forced it to stop.

Google continued to work with dodgy prescription drug-peddlers – whose wares often included lethal counterfeit drugs – six years after first being requested not to, in 2003. Google also paid a half billion dollar settlement arising from the operation to avoid further prosecution. and just last month, the search giant coughed up $250m to settle a lawsuit brought by shareholders charging a breach of fiduciary duty, unjust enrichment and corporate waste*. The operator of one pirate site alleges in a sworn affidavit (PDF) that Google’s commercial team coached him on what search terms to use.

It's not like Google can't vanish results

Google has shown the ability to demote results or even make large parts of the internet disappear entirely. In 2011 it acted as Judge and Jury and made 11 million domains disappear from its search results overnight – arguing they were spammy.

The idea is to make pirate sites more inaccessible for the casual user - although they're still accessible to the determined tech savvy leecher. BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor said the top 25 pirate sites were now blocked by the major UK ISPs, reducing traffic to them by around 80 per cent.

Javid gave a robust defence of IP, but a less than robust commitment to future funding for infringement efforts.

“I know some people say the IP genie is out of the bottle and that no amount of wishing will force it back in. But I don’t agree with them. We don’t look at any other crimes and say 'It’s such a big problem that it’s not worth bothering with'. We wouldn’t stand idly by if paintings worth hundreds of millions of pounds were being stolen from the National Gallery. Copyright infringement is theft, pure and simple.”

However, when asked if the government would continue to fund the City of London Police’s PIPCU anti-piracy operation, he was cagey. Of course, action on Google and PIPCU funding are likely to be interrupted by a General Election.

Taylor said the scheme-formerly-known-as-VCAP, Creative Content UK, which will email visitors to pirate sites with educational information, is currently out to tender with creative agencies. The former No.10 "Behavioural Change Unit", which has tended to overstate its effectiveness – is also involved.

Prepared to be Nudged. ®

* U.S. District Court, Northern District of California Google Inc Shareholder Derivative Litigation

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