A first-of-its kind initiative aimed at reducing the availability of infringing content accessed through online search has been agreed in the UK between representatives of rights holders (BPI, Motion Picture Association and Alliance for Intellectual Property representing a wide range of rights holders); and major search engines (Google and Bing).
Following a Government-chaired series of roundtables, a voluntary code of practice will kick-start collaboration between the parties to demote links to websites that are dedicated to infringing content for consumers in the UK. The code will accelerate the demotion of illegal sites following notices from rights holders, and establishes ongoing technical consultation, increased co-operation and information sharing to develop and improve on the process. It will also enable new practices to be adopted where needed.
The parties want to work together toward ensuring consumers have easy access to legal content and are not being inadvertently led to the infringing websites which proliferate online and risk to expose them to malware. A core aim is to ensure that users who are looking for legitimate content are much less likely to get presented with links to infringing content. There will also be collaboration to improve autocomplete suggestions which can lead users to infringing search results.
The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has led the discussions, with the assistance of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Ofcom has supported the discussions by examining in detail the way that search results are presented to internet users, and the group has explored possible techniques and metrics that can help UK consumers avoid illegitimate content more easily.
This agreement will run in parallel with existing anti-piracy measures aimed at reducing online infringement. These include court-ordered site blocking, work with brands to reducing advertising on illegal sites and the Get it Right from a Genuine Site consumer education campaign, which encourages fans to value the creative process and directs them to legal sources of content.
“Successful and dynamic online innovation requires an ecosystem that works for everyone – users, technology companies, and artists and creators,” declared Geoff Taylor, Chief Executive BPI and BRIT Awards. “BPI has long campaigned for search engines to do more to ensure fans are directed to legal sources for music or other entertainment. There is much work still to do to achieve this. The Code will not be a silver bullet fix, but it will mean that illegal sites are demoted more quickly from search results and that fans searching for music are more likely to find a fair site.”
“This initiative is a world-first. We are grateful for the support from UK Government both for this code and for the “Get It Right” campaign that encourages fans to support the artists they love. We look forward to working with Google, Microsoft and our partners across the creative industries to build a safer, better online environment for creators and fans.”
“Pirate websites are currently much too easy to find via search, so we appreciate the parties’ willingness to try to improve that situation,” commented Stan McCoy, President & Managing Director, Motion Picture Association EMEA. “We look forward to working on this initiative alongside many other approaches to fighting online piracy, such as the ‘Get it Right’ campaign that aims to help educate consumers about the many ways to enjoy film and television content legally and at the time of their choosing. We are grateful for the Government’s involvement and support on this issue.”
“The Alliance has been present throughout the discussions and has consistently made the case for a collaborative process that works for all rights holders and creators and starts to help the UK’s intellectual property generators to promote and sell their works without unfair competition,” stated Eddy Leviten, Director General, Alliance for IP. “Whilst there is still a lot of work ahead I would like to thank Ministers, past and present, and officials at the IPO, DCMS and Ofcom for their help in getting us to this crucial stage.”
The code will come into force immediately, and sets targets for reducing the visibility of infringing content in search results by 1 June 2017.
Jo Johnson MP will oversee the implementation of this Code of Practice, and the IPO will work with all parties to evaluate progress.
Johnson, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, said: “Search engines play a vital role in helping consumers discover content online. Their relationship with our world leading creative industries needs to be collaborative. Consumers are increasingly heading online for music, films, e-books, and a wide variety of other content. It is essential that they are presented with links to legitimate websites and services, not provided with links to pirate sites.”
“I am very pleased that the search engines and representatives of the creative industries have agreed this Code. I look forward to this valuable collaboration benefiting both the UK’s digital and creative sectors.”
Minister of State for Digital and Culture, Matt Hancock, added: “We are one of the world’s leading digital nations, and we have a responsibility to make sure that consumers have easy access to legal content online. Pirate sites deprive artists and rights holders of hard-earned income and I’m delighted to see industry led solutions like this landmark agreement which will be instrumental in driving change.”
“As we build a more global Britain we want the UK to be the most innovative country to do business, and initiatives like this will ensure our creative and digital economies continue to thrive.”
Research from the IPO found that 15 per cent of Internet users – 6.7 UK Internet users – are still accessing copyright infringing content. The three-month period from March to May 2016 saw copies of films, TV programmes and music tracks accessed 24 million, 27 million and 78 million times respectively from illegal sources online.
Since 2011, when it began its programme of notifications to search engines to remove links to infringing content in their search results, the BPI has sent over 450 million notices to Microsoft’s Bing (183,333,358) and Google (274,807,342) combined. Such notices are critical for removal of infringing content, and will continue to play a critical role in the parties’ efforts to demote content.