UK IP Advisor Points To Online Search Engines To Do More Against Piracy

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Search engines don’t cause internet piracy but they could do more to stamp it out, the UK Prime Minister’s intellectual property advisor says in a new paper.

Online film and music piracy in the United Kingdom causes annual revenue losses of £400 million ($669 million), Conservative Member of Parliament Mike Weatherley, intellectual property advisor to Prime Minister David Cameron, said in a discussion paper posted on 29 May.

The document was produced with input from Google and other search engines, but is not a joint submission, he said. It’s intended to spur debate and contains recommendations for consideration by the Secretary of State.

Weatherley stressed that search engines are not the cause of online piracy, but said research showed that they “play an important role in inadvertently guiding consumers towards illegal content and are well placed to be part of the solution.

“The general consensus from submissions received from rights holders is that the current initiatives employed by search engines to combat piracy are inadequate,” the paper said.

Google responded to that claim by coming up with five steps to help UK content owners increase the visibility of authorised services in search results, it said. These are:

(1) Joint industry events to allow content owners and Google search experts share best practices on making content discoverable.

(2) Introduction of a new open standard for the mark-up of websites to enable authorised music sites to more prominently feature streaming “preview” music content in search results.

(3) Giving advertisers the chance to add links to download or stream from legitimate content sites. (4) Suggesting that the movie and music sectors design content-specific pages to direct consumers to legal content.

(5) Crawlable licensed services, where movie or music streaming services provided to paying customers through mobile apps, tablets, phones or otherwise behind a paywall become crawlable by Google so it can return more relevant search results to guide consumers to legal services.

While it’s encouraging that Google has engaged with the issue of piracy openly and collaboratively, “it should be noted that industry response to the initiatives … has not been fully favourable,” the paper said.


Weatherley offered 10 recommendations. Among these, he urged Google to take the lead in setting responsible industry standards, and giving rights holders the opportunity to discuss with the search giant how to maximise prioritisation of sites with legitimate content.

Google’s proposal for crawlable licensed services should be explored further by licensed services, rights owners and Google, he said. There should be an effective method for promoting and demoting search results on the basis of legality, with search engines working with rights holders to design a workable system.

One key recommendation was that search engines agree on a protocol with content owners under which, once they receive a copy of a formal court order blocking a site from access via the main UK internet services providers, they must remove that site from their search algorithms promptly.

Another main recommendation was that search services fully support the “follow the money” initiative to cut advertising funds to pirates.

Weatherley also urged search engines to look into incorporating trust marks and warnings to signify legal content in search results presented to consumers, and that everyone try to put voluntary measures in place to reduce piracy.

Google Pays ‘Lip Service”

The report is significant, said the British Recorded Music Industry (BPI). Other online intermediaries such as advertisers and payment providers have taken voluntary action to counter the growth of the online black market, but Google “has paid lip service to the issue but in practice has done little to address the ethical loophole in its algorithm, which directs millions of consumers to sites it clearly knows to be illegal,” said BPI Chief Executive Geoff Taylor. If search engines don’t step up to the plate on this, the government should legislate, he said.

Google and the UK Internet Services Providers’ Association did not immediately respond.

Dugie Standeford may be reached at

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