MPs: Google blocks child abuse images, it should block piracy too

Report from MPs blames Google for failing to block piracy sites in search results

Nicole Kobie
26 Sep 2013

If Google can block child abuse images, it can also block piracy sites, according to a report from MPs.

MPs said they were "unimpressed" by Google's "derisorily ineffective" efforts to battle online piracy, according to a Commons Select Committee report looking into protecting creative industries.

The report said that proposals in the Hargreaves review to introduce copyright exceptions, and the failure to roll out the Digital Economy Act were risking the "livelihoods of the individuals and industries" that create content.

However, the strongest condemnation was for Google, which was criticised for not doing a better job of filtering out piracy sites from search results.

"We strongly condemn the failure of Google, notable among technology companies, to provide an adequate response to creative industry requests to prevent its search engine directing consumers to copyright-infringing websites," the report said. "We are unimpressed by their evident reluctance to block infringing websites on the flimsy grounds that some operate under the cover of hosting some legal content."

"The continuing promotion by search engines of illegal content on the internet is unacceptable," it added. "So far, their attempts to remedy this have been derisorily ineffective."

The report said it wasn't "beyond the wit of the engineers employed by Google and others to demote and, ideally, remove copyright infringing material from search engine results".

Indeed, John Whittingdale MP, the chair of the Committee - and also a non-executive director at Audio Network, an online music catalogue - noted that Google manages to remove other illegal content. "Google and others already work with international law enforcement to block for example child porn from search results and it has provided no coherent, responsible reason why it can't do the same for illegal, pirated content," he said.

Google disagreed that it wasn't doing enough. "We removed more than 20 million links to pirated content from our search results in the last month alone," a spokesperson said. "But search is not the problem - according to Ofcom just 8% of infringers in the UK use Google to find unlicensed film and 13% to find unlicensed music. Google works harder than anyone to help the film and music industry protect their content online."

Call for changes

The MPs' report called for a "powerful champion of IP" within government, suggesting that should be the role of the Intellectual Property Office, but that body is "too often seen as wishing to dilute copyright rather than defend and enforce it".

As well, the MPs want the IPO to include more research into online piracy in its annual report and to examine how search engines "facilitate" it, and for the maximum penalty for serious online copyright theft to be increased to ten years.

The roll out of the controversial and delayed Digital Economy Act should be accelerated, the MPs said, especially the sections requiring ISPs to send warning letters to customers seen to be downloading content illegally.

The report also disagreed with the widely well-received Hargreaves review into intellectual property - even disagreeing with its advice to allow "private copying", such as ripping from CDs. The Committee report said such activity is not "factored into the purchase either of music or devices that store, play or copy it".

Other options

The MPs' report also takes a swipe at digital activists the Open Rights Group (ORG). "While we share the Open Rights Group’s attachment to freedom of expression via the internet, we firmly repudiate their laissez-faire attitudes towards copyright infringement," the report said.

The report seems to be quite a car crash, ignoring evidence when it doesn't suit, and relying on anecdotes when it does

However, ORG director Jim Killock said the report was flawed. "The report seems to be quite a car crash, ignoring evidence when it doesn't suit, and relying on anecdotes when it does," he told PC Pro. "It is tremendously one-sided, given the breadth and importance of these issues to the whole of industry and society, well beyond the perspective of music and film lobby groups, objecting to simple things like legalising transfer of MP3s to iPods."

Indeed, the report quotes industry figures suggesting online piracy of film and music costs £400 million annually, and that 35% of movie watched online are downloaded illegally.

"These industry figures were questioned by the Open Rights Group, and Viscount Younger of Leckie stated they were not based on exact science," the report admitted. "Such quibbles in our view, however, should not detract from the existential threat that online piracy clearly poses to the creative economy."

Killock suggested the MPs had themselves missed the wider picture. "They seem to have missed the real story, which is that industry has succeeded with new services like Netflix and Lovefilm by making more flexible, consumer friendly deals, like showing Breaking Bad at nearly the same time as the in USA," he said.

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