The UK government has indicated that it intends to take a stronger stance on search engines linking to sites that infringe copyright, claiming they must 'step up and show willing.'
Search engines have long claimed that they are not responsible for the content they carry, merely indexing pages and returning results for search terms. If some of those results are illegal or unlawful, they claim, that's something the relevant authorities must take up with the target site. Governments and pro-copyright lobbyists argue that by providing access to such sites, the search engines are jointly culpable and must work to expunge infringing material from their databases or be held accountable.
Although search services like that offered by advertising giant Google respond to take-down notices, including those issued under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the UK government has indicated that this is not enough. In a speech during the annual general meeting of the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) - one of the biggest pro-copyright lobbies in the UK - Culture Secretary Sajid Javid stated that 'search engines also have to play their part. They must step up and show willing.
'That’s why Vince Cable and I have written to Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, asking them to work with you to stop search results sending people to illegal sites. And let me be perfectly clear: if we don’t see real progress, we will be looking at a legislative approach,
' Javid warned. 'In the words of Martin Mills, “technology companies should be the partners of rights companies, not their masters.”
Javid also explained that the government has allocated £2.5 million in public funds to support the City of London Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), which runs a list of allegedly infringing websites using data provided by industry groups including the BPI. 'The list identifies sites that deliberately and consistently breach copyright, so brand owners can avoid advertising on them. A pilot scheme saw a 12 per cent drop in advertising from major household brands, the kind of big names that lend legitimacy to illegal sites,
' Javid claimed. 'It’s a small first step. But over time the list, along with action taken by payment facilitators, will provide a valuable tool for making copyright infringement a much less lucrative business.
'And that’s the best way to stop the career copyright criminals. As I said earlier, you work in music because you love it. Copyright crooks don’t love music. They love money, and they’ve been attracted to the industry solely by its potential to make them rich. Take away their profits and you take away their reason for being.
Sajid Javid's speech can be read in full in the GOV.UK speeches archive