UK Search Engines Will Sign Up To A 'Voluntary' Code On Piracy -- Or Face The Consequences

from the and-who-cares-what-you-think? dept

As Techdirt readers know, the copyright industry has almost no means to tackle infringement, or to demand that pirated materials are removed from Internet sites. At least, that's the impression you would get as a result of the constant whining you hear from the entertainment companies that they are doomed and terribly neglected by the lawmakers. Indeed, not content with the copyright ratchet that constantly makes copyright laws longer, stronger and broader, the film, music and publishing industries are always pushing for "voluntary" agreements with the Internet industry that don't require anything so tiresome as actual laws to be passed... or pesky things like "due process."

One example of this approach is the "six strikes" scheme in the US. As Techdirt noted recently, the approach was a complete failure, and has just been dropped. Unfortunately, the idea lives on around the world -- the EFF has an entire section on its site about what it calls "shadow regulation," and it has just published a global review of copyright enforcement agreements. Particularly troubling are the EU's proposals for a new copyright directive, which would require:

large user-generated content platforms to reach agreements with copyright holders to adopt automated technologies that would scan content that users upload, and either block that content or pay royalties for it.

As the EFF notes, the reason why these would be "voluntary" deals is pretty clear:

The Commission is likely taking that approach because that it knows that it can't directly require Internet platforms to scan content that users upload -- an existing law, Article 14 of the Directive 2000/31 on electronic commerce (E-commerce Directive), expressly prohibits any such requirement.

That is, it would be impossible to make this a legal requirement, because it is forbidden by another key EU directive, but "voluntary" agreements can skirt that law, which is another reason they are so insidious. The EU's revised copyright directive is still at an early stage of discussion, so there is some hope that this harmful proposal can be fought and removed. Sadly, that's not the case in the UK, where it seems that search engines have had their arms twisted to sign up to another "voluntary" agreement, with the threat of new laws being brought in if they don't. As a post on TorrentFreak explains:

Google and other search companies are close to striking a voluntary agreement with entertainment companies to tackle the appearance of infringing content links in search results. Following roundtable discussions chaired by the UK's Intellectual Property Office, all parties have agreed that the code should take effect by June 1, 2017.

TorrentFreak quotes a revealing comment made by the UK government minister that has been leading the talks, Baroness Buscombe:

"The search engines involved in this work have been very co-operative, making changes to their algorithms and processes, but also working bilaterally with creative industry representatives to explore the options for new interventions, and how existing processes might be streamlined," she said.

The fact that the talks were "bilateral," involving only entertainment companies and search engines, exposes one of the worst features of these so-called "voluntary" agreements: that there is no open debate of the kind that would be standard when actual legislation was involved, nor any opportunity for ordinary people to contribute. Instead, closed-door discussions produce deals that may be satisfactory for the copyright industry, and bearable for the Internet companies, but which are uniformly bad for the general public, whose views are simply not considered relevant.

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  • identicon
    FesteringPussPocket, 9 Feb 2017 @ 12:03pm

    Where's the penalties for willfully false positives?

    If we're going to streamline things, then here, streamline the "loss" of the copyright of the "supposedly infringed" copyright for a single false positive.

    Hey, your shared file is our great new movie that nobody has paid money to watch.

    Oh shit, it isn't? Oh well, we weren't making any money off of it anyway so who cares if we don't own the copyright for it anymore.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Feb 2017 @ 8:57pm

      Re: Where's the penalties for willfully false positives?

      Of course there aren't going to be any penalties for "willfully false" positives. The standard for "willfully false" has always been ridiculously high.

      Copyright enforcers could eat a baby and still get the benefit of the doubt for "good faith".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Feb 2017 @ 12:27pm

    Missing from the proposals are any realistic dispute mechanism, or even any proof that the claimed content actually belongs to the claimant. This is another attempt to regain control over publishing by the legacy players.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    Jose Torres, 9 Feb 2017 @ 12:50pm

    Good step

    Very good step. After so long!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 9 Feb 2017 @ 2:17pm

    Voluntary -- or face the consequences?

    Wouldn't Extortion be a more concise description?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 9 Feb 2017 @ 5:22pm

    Voluntary as a mugging

    "Do it our way or we'll make some laws(that won't stand up in court unless we own the judge) that force you to do it our way" is about as 'voluntary' as "Hand over the money unless you want to find out if the gun aimed at you is loaded."

    If you're being threatened for non-compliance with the demands presented to you, you cannot 'voluntarily' agree to something, as coercion nullifies consent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    techflaws (profile), 9 Feb 2017 @ 9:58pm

    So, if there's a law prohibiting this requirement, what stick do they wield to make ISP agree to these voluntary agreements?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 10 Feb 2017 @ 7:59am

    What I don't understand is why the tech companies are rolling over and letting this happen.

    You know what would have stopped a massive amount of this nonsense in its tracks? If the first time some movie studio or record company had tried to sue Google for frivolous reasons, they'd responded with, "OK, let's settle this like businessmen. Initiating hostile takeover."

    This is something that needs to happen.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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