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Piracy back on agenda in Washington

By | Published on Friday 20 September 2013

US Congress

The US music and movie industries have launched a new initiative to get piracy back on the agenda in Washington, though this time the focus is on search engines.

Two years ago, of course, there was a lot of momentum in US Congress around online piracy issues, with two pieces of legislation aiming to force internet service providers to block access to websites that primarily exist to enable piracy. But a high profile backlash from the tech community scuppered both sets of proposals.

According to Billboard, in their latest round of lobbying, the Motion Picture Association Of America and the Recording Industry Association Of America have stopped talking about web-blocking and are now focused on search-blocking, calling on Google et al to stop linking to unlicensed sources of content when people search for films or artists.

The search engines, of course, will remove specific links from their search results if instructed to do so by the movie and music industries, but the film studios and record companies want Google to stop listing piracy websites in their entirety. Talks to that effect have been ongoing for some time, but the search engines have so far resisted such wide-ranging delisting of sites, partly because of the question as to who should decide what sites should be fully de-listed, and on what grounds?

Speaking to a Congressional panel this week, RIAA chief Cary Sherman said: “We invite Google and the other major search engines to sit down with us to formulate a plan that goes beyond promises of action and actually serves its intended purpose of deterring piracy and giving the legitimate marketplace an environment to thrive”.

Google, which needs to work with the music and movie studios to grow its Google Play business, does regularly talk about piracy issues, and would argue it has done way more than it is legally obliged to do to help the copyright industries manage their rights online, citing YouTube’s ContentID system and tweaks that have been made in the Google search algorithm to prioritise legit content.

But full site delisting on copyright grounds is something it continues to resist, instead insisting that copyright owners should focus on going after the revenue streams of piracy sites, by working with Google’s ad networks to ensure they are not providing advertising income for the pirates, and working with credit card companies to cut off other revenue. This line was pushed just last week in Google’s latest piracy report.

For the time being it seems that political types in Washington are still hopefully a voluntary agreement can be reached between the music and movie studios and Google et al, though the former are increasingly saying that the threat of legislation is now needed to force the latter to play ball.