Could The US Demand That Google Boost Hollywood Sites To Fight Online Piracy?

Should the US demand that Google, Bing and other search engines give preference to “authorized” sites offering television shows and movies? At least some members of the US House of Representatives pondered the idea yesterday, during a hearing on online piracy issues.

The US House Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet Subcommittee hearings yesterday on online piracy and copyright, of which PaidContent.org has a nice write-up.

The entertainment industry has been lobbying heavily for more government intervention to protect their interests and these hearings would appear to be responding to that pressure. Previously the Senate has taken up the idea of government blocking of sites that support piracy. And last year the US began seizing domains (torrent and other sites) accused of large-scale copyright infringement.

Forty Million “Infringement Notices” Didn’t Stop Piracy

During the hearing, Paramount Chief Operating Officer Frederick Huntsberry testified that his company sent over 40 million “infringement notices” last year but that did little to address the problem.

Huntsberry talked about how it only takes a search on Google and then a few clicks to find Paramount content being streamed or made illegally available without permission.

Priority For Hollywood?

Huntsberry’s demo seemed to strike home with some of the members hearing it. PaidContent writes:

That clearly had an impact on the panel, and a few different members, including Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Sandy Adams (R-Fla.), asked about the possibility of giving search prioritization to “authorized” media options like Netflix.

Or Better Blacklisting?

Daniel Castro of The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation testified that Congress should create a “blacklist of sites, then force ISPs to block them and tell search engines to remove them from lists of search results.”

Thus while it would involve more than search engines, Google et al would be one of the primary points of enforcement because that’s chiefly how consumers find “illegal content.”

While there’s no new bill before Congress, there are significant practical and procedural questions about how copyright would be enforced against sites that are deemed in violation of the law. Would they, for example, be blocked and then have to appeal or apply to be “reinstated”? Would Google, Yahoo and Bing be compelled to blacklist sites and remove them from the index? Site blocking now going on to address spam would seem to pave the way for copyright-related blocking.

Most People Don’t Want To Pay

The “culture of free” that has developed online over the past decade or so as a competitive strategy and advocated as a business philosophy by pundits such as Chris Anderson has created consumer expectations that everything online should be available for nothing. This atmosphere has helped fuel online piracy, which is a mutlibillion dollar global phenomenon.

According to a recently released study by the Rockwool Foundation in Denmark 70% of consumer survey respondents believe that piracy is acceptable when it’s for personal use.

Indeed, most people don’t want to pay for stuff online and won’t if they can possibly avoid it. This has obviously become a problem for publishers of all types and newspaper publishers in particular — not piracy per se but the resistance to paying for content. It’s also a major problem for Hollywood studios and has been a problem for the record industry since Napster first appeared more than a decade ago. Now the government may be getting much more involved.

Separately a major academic report by the Social Sciences Research Council on global piracy argues that law enforcement, fines and penalties won’t top piracy but more reasonable pricing of products in places where theft is rampant is the answer.

Targeting “Rogue” Sites

In the end, it seems that if anything comes from the hearings, it won’t be blacklisting or giving priority to sites in search results but instead perhaps greater enforcement of shutting down these sites in general. PaidContent reports that most of the panel supported that idea, though with some concerns. Certainly killing the sites has the effect of dropping them from search results.

(image via Shutterstock.com)

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Features: Analysis | Google: Legal | Legal: Copyright | Magazine

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • http://www.michael-martinez.com/ Michael Martinez

    There is a problem with the Social Sciences Research Council’s report. Their suggestion that reducing pricing will resolve the issue misses the mark. The reason most people are stealing the content is that they don’t have access to it in the first place.

    The entertainment industry will have to do away with regional distribution before they can solve the Internet piracy problem.

  • http://www.gamerstube.com Joe Youngblood

    gamerstube.com replys to movie witnesses on piracy: http://gamerstube1.blogspot.com/2011/03/gamerstube-reply-to-us-hearings-on.html

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