Sink the internet pirates

Commons committee pushes for tighter controls on internet piracy and slams the Hargreaves report 


The revelation that Google has removed more than 200 million piracy links from its search engine results this year will hopefully assuage the concerns of the House of Common’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which recently singled out the company in its condemnation of search engines failing to stop directing consumers to copyright-infringing websites.

A central theme of the committee’s report, entitled Supporting the Creative Economy, was copyright piracy in the digital age, in particular the piracy of audio-visual material. It is well-known that the law lags social change, but in the area of copyright and IT that lag is even more noticeable and pertinent.

Put bluntly, the committee considers that the law does not do enough to punish those engaged in online copyright infringement or to deter others. Its stance is well-illustrated by this quote: “… quibbles [about the probative quality of the evidence] should not detract from the existential threat online piracy poses to the creative economy.”

It recommends that criminal sanctions be increased to match those available for offline infringement, the provisions of the Digital Economy Act 2010 be brought into force and that Prof Ian Hargreaves’ recent proposals for further exceptions to copyright infringement should not be implemented. The latter would amount to a government U-turn – proposals in Hargreaves’ review had been broadly accepted en masse.

The committee’s condemnation of Google in the report was trenchant.

“We strongly condemn the failure of Google […] to provide an adequate response to creative industry requests to prevent its search engine directing consumers to copyright-infringing websites,” states the report. “We are unimpressed by their evident reluctance to block infringing websites on the flimsy grounds that some [host] some legal content. The promotion by search engines of illegal content on the internet is unacceptable. So far, their attempts to remedy this have been derisively ineffective. We do not believe it to be beyond the wit of the engineers employed by Google and others to demote and, ideally, remove copyright-infringing material from search engine results.”

The committee was also critical of the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO): “Too often, [the IPO] is seen as wishing to dilute copyright rather than defend and enforce it.” 

It also clearly thinks the IPO should be part of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

However, the committee’s view on Hargreaves is the bluntest: “[…] we think Hargreaves is wrong […]. We regret that the Hargreaves report adopts a significantly low standard in relation to the need for objective evidence in determining copyright policy. We do not consider Prof Hargreaves has adequately assessed the dangers of putting the established system of copyright at risk for no obvious benefit.”

In all, the committee was strongly supportive of the industry’s view that protection should be strengthened, not diminished, and that the protection conferred should be enforced more thoroughly.