Several major UK entertainment industry groups are accusing Google and Bing of directing searchers to illegal content, and have proposed a “Code of Practice” for how search engines can better encourage consumers to locate legal content on the web. The groups are also calling for the UK government to help oversee how well the search engines administer the recommendations listed in the Code of Practice.
As The Guardian reports, the groups involved in the proposal include the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), the Motion Picture Association (MPA), the Premier League, the Publishers Association and a TV/film trade group called the Pact. The groups’ suggestions are spelled out in a nine-page document that became public after a Freedom of Information Act request.
The Piracy Problem
The entertainment groups say it is “trivially easy for UK consumers to find and access illegal entertainment content via search engines.”
On September 26 2011, BPI made test searches on Google for the name of each of the UK’s top 20 singles and albums, followed in each case by the word “mp3″ (the dominant legal and illegal file format for digital music). On average, 16 of the first 20 Google results for charts singles and 15 of the top 20 search results for chart albums linked to known illegal sites.
The report also cites a Publishers Association study that involved searches on both Google and Bing for the 50 bestselling books during the last week of April 2011. In that study, “Google returned an average of 41% non-legal links in the top ten (first page) results” and “Bing returned an average of 21% non-legal links in the top ten (first page) results.”
Search Engines Code of Practice
The report suggests a Code of Practice for search engines that includes the following:
- assign lower rankings to sites that “repeatedly make available unlicensed content in breach of copyright”
- prioritize (i.e., give better rankings/visibility to) websites that “obtain certification as a licensed site” for content downloading
- stop indexing websites that are subject to court orders and create “procedures to de-index substantially infringing websites”
- improve the “notice and takedown” system and ensure that searchers aren’t sent to illegal sites via suggested searches, related searches and suggested sites
- ensure that search engines don’t advertise illegal sites, place advertising on them, or profit from selling keywords related to illegal sites
- ensure that they don’t profit from selling mobile apps that “encourage infringement”
Google declined to comment to the Guardian.
The company faced similar pressure in December when the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) scolded Google and suggested that the company’s search algorithm be changed to better fight online piracy. Even Congress has discussed whether Google should favor legal sites in its search results.
Google did extend an olive branch of sorts in the U.S. when it launched the Google Music store in November. Earlier last year, Google also began removing some piracy-related terms from its Instant Search product.