Endorsing Mike Weatherley’s Call for Search Engines to Play a Bigger Role in Supporting a Safe and Secure Online Environment

September 3, 2014

Mike Weatherley MP, the British Prime Minister’s Intellectual Property Advisor, made some important points in his discussion paper on Search Engines and Piracy, especially that search engines such as Google play an important role in “guiding consumers towards illegal content on the Internet and are well placed to be part of the solution.”

In a response to that report, filed by the Motion Picture Association, we welcomed Mr. Weatherley’s conclusion that given the power and responsibilities search engines have as gatekeepers to the Internet, they have a unique responsibility to ensure a safe, and secure online environment for its users.

All of us involved in the digital economy share a responsibility to take meaningful steps to curb copyright infringement online.  Creators, search engines, ad networks, payment processors, ISPS – all play a role in finding voluntary solutions that  mean less harmful and illegal activity online and more high-quality, legitimate choices for audiences.

While there is no single solution to online copyright infringement, our response noted that the UK is making important progress because several key players are stepping up:

– Advertisers and payment processors have engaged proactively with right holders and the London Police Department’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit to help cut off revenues to illegal sites.

– Movie and music right holders have successfully secured orders under section 97a of the Copyright Design and Patents Act, which require ISPs to block access to specific sites found to be illegal.

– Internet service providers (ISPs) have joined right holders to establish Creative Content UK, which will deliver a targeted education and consumer awareness campaign to internet subscribers and the wider public.

So far, the big exception to this trend has been the failure of search engines to meaningfully engage. The Weatherley report makes clear that, as the dominant search provider, Google should take a more forceful role in protecting consumers and addressing online copyright infringement.

As Mr. Weatherley points out, research has demonstrated that search engines play a critical role in directing consumers to pirate sites, especially first-time visitors.  The prominence of illegal sites in search listings makes it more difficult for the growing number of legal content services online to compete on a level playing field.  It also makes it easier for consumers to be bombarded with malware, viruses, fraudulent and otherwise harmful adverts associated with illegal sites.

The MPA strongly endorses the Weatherley report’s proposal that search engines should promptly remove sites from their search listings that have been found illegal through the transparent section 97a legal process in the UK. Google, in turn, has suggested that it has some other ideas and they are worth discussing as part of a comprehensive effort to reduce the role of search in piracy.  To start, however, Google should immediately adopt these and other reasonable, low cost and transparent steps that would have an immediate impact, as described in our response.

We must all play by the same rules online.  No one should be allowed to profit from others’ hard work and original ideas.  It will take a shared effort to institute better rules of the road that will continue to foster creativity and innovation.  By that same token, no one entity has the sole responsibility for ensuring a safe and secure environment online.  That said, Google is certainly the most powerful and important player in the field today, and with great power, comes certain responsibilities.   We welcome Google’s energy and ideas in this comprehensive effort to reduce the role of search in piracy.  However, as an important show of good faith on Google’s part, we believe it should immediately adopt these reasonable steps.