A House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee report has condemned Google's failure to adequately respond to the issue of online piracy and its refusal to block infringing websites on the grounds they might also carry legal
material. Citing the recent successful prosecution of a streaming site admin, the committee also calls for punishment in such cases to be extended to 10 years imprisonment.
During the last couple of years media industry companies have heavily criticized Google for linking to copyright-infringing material in its search results.
Google has responded by removing many millions of links but apparently that's just not enough. In the past couple of weeks the world's largest search engine has become a punching bag for the music and movie industries and today they find
themselves battered again, this time by a British House of Commons report.
The reports finds many targets for criticism but begins with a swipe at the UK's leading Internet rights groups. Open Rights Group
The relationship between the strength of Britain's creative industries and robust copyright laws is acknowledged by the Open Rights Group which aims radically to liberalise the use and sharing of copyrighted content.
While we share the Open Rights Group's attachment to freedom of expression via the internet, we firmly repudiate their laissez-faire attitudes towards copyright infringement.
The report goes on to mention the creation of a new City of London Police unit dedicated to cracking down on intellectual property crime and reveals that a first-of-its-kind conference is being planned to bring players from across the world to
London to discuss enforcement issues.
But inevitably the big guns were turned on the messenger. Google in the firing line again
The Committee begins by quoting Google itself, who at the time were removing around 9 million URLs from its indexes every month at the request of copyright holders. This was countered with information provided by the BPI who said that despite
Google's alleged algorithm changes, the instances of infringing sites turning up in the top 10 results had fallen only marginally, from 63% in August 2012 to 61% a year later. Clearly the Committee are unimpressed. The report states:
We strongly condemn the failure of Google, notable among technology companies, to provide an adequate response to creative industry requests to prevent its search engine directing consumers to copyright-infringing websites.
We are unimpressed by their evident reluctance to block infringing websites on the flimsy grounds that some operate under the cover of hosting some legal content. The continuing promotion by search engines of illegal content on the internet is
unacceptable. So far, their attempts to remedy this have been derisorily 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. Google co-operates with law enforcement agencies to block child
pornographic content from search results and it has provided no coherent, responsible answer as to why it cannot do the same for sites which blatantly, and illegally, offer pirated content.
We recommend that the maximum penalty for serious online copyright theft be extended to ten years' imprisonment. Criminal offences in the online world should attract the same penalties as those provided for the physical world by the Copyright,
etc. and Trade Marks (Offences and Enforcement) Act 2002.
Finally the report criticizes the delay in implementing the controversial Digital Economy Act, stalled now for the best part of three years. In particular, the issuing of warning notices to infringers should come sooner rather than later.
We recommend that a copyright infringement notification system envisaged by the Digital Economy Act be implemented with far greater speed than the Government currently plans. By targeting information letters to the worst infringers, early
implementation will, we believe, serve an important educative purpose which could percolate more widely.
Overall the Committee's report is a fairly disappointing and unimaginative piece of work. They offer a view of copyright that is too simplistic, one-sided and which effectively tries to reduce the debate to whether you like the creative
industries or not. They thus ignore the wider impact of new technology on citizens as creators and participants in culture, and on how markets for cultural goods can now function most effectively.
From previously being exceptionally lenient on those publishing links to copyrighted files without permission, Spain is now well on its way to cracking down on the problem. Amendments to the country's penal code have been approved means that
admins of sites offering links to copyrighted works without the owners' permission could face jail sentences of up to six years.
Spain has long been a thorn in the side of United States-based entertainment companies. In January 2012 it was revealed that the United States had threatened to put Spain on a trade blacklist but just months later the country responded by
introduced the so-called Sinde Law which was designed to offer greater protections for copyright holders. However, even though the legislation included provisions to close infringing sites, there was clearly no appetite to do so.
Now, a year-and-a-half on, Spain is having another go at appeasing the United States. The Government-approved amendments to the penal code target owners and administrators of file-sharing sites that link to content hosted elsewhere. Previously
these types of sites remained within the law provided they didn't profit directly from a file-sharing transaction. Under the new amendments, those making even indirect profit from an infringement (such as via advertising) now face jail sentences
of up to six years.
But while the government has signaled a crack down in one area, it insists that flexibility will remain in others, particularly against basic search engines and regular users. In no case will we act against regular users, neutral search
engines, or against P2P programs that allow the sharing of content, Minister Alberto Ruiz Gallardon said.
Now that the Cabinet has approved the amendments they will head over to parliament for debate. Only time will tell if the government will really follow through with its threats.
The City of London Police have launched a unit dedicated to pursuing serious intellectual property crime.
Police will liaise with international agencies to tackle digital copyright infringement in the physical production and sale of counterfeit goods.
The Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (Pipcu) will receive £2.56m funding over two years from the UK government body the Intellectual Property Office.
Our focus will be the professional criminals using intellectual property crime to generate illicit gains, Detective Chief Supt Oliver Shaw told the BBC.
Policemen trained in online investigations will act on tip-offs from industry groups to identify UK suspects, and will proactively seek out websites offering illegal goods and downloads. The 19-strong unit will have the power to seize goods and
assets, and will push internet service providers to take down websites selling spurious products.
UK efforts to counter serious copyright crime include the appointment of an intellectual property adviser by Prime Minister David Cameron. Conservative MP Mike Weatherley, who will advise the prime minister on enforcement, has been appointed to
Russia is now proposing even tougher measures against those who facilitate piracy. A new bill has been approved which allows for fines of up to $29,853 for service providers, search engines and users who fail to comply with a blacklist of sites
already subjected to copyright complaints.
Just over a month has passed since Russia introduced new legislation aimed at cracking down on online piracy. The law, which has become known as Russia's SOPA, takes a tough line with those offering or linking to illicit content online.
Copyright complaints against a site or service can lead to that domain being added to a national blocklist, if their operators fail to render the illicit content inaccessible within a few days.
Just 34 days after the initial law was implemented, the government is pushing through further punitive measures for pirates and those deemed to be assisting them.
According to Vesti.ru a parliamentary committee has approved a new bill which will allow a range of Internet entities to be fined if they fail to block content and sites as dictated by the country's blacklist. The bill, which was approved in the
first of three planned readings in the State Duma, introduces fines of up to one million rubles ($29,853) to be levied against search engines, web hosts, ISPs, and even regular web users. The heaviest of fines will be reserved for companies
failing to comply with the requirements of the blacklist, while punishments for regular users are expected to sit around 5,000 rubles ($149).
Just how far should liability for copyright infringement be stretched?
In years gone by it was fairly widely accepted that if you host infringing material without permission then that is illegal. Now we are used to the idea that linking to that material is also illegal, and even indexing a link that links to a page
that links to a mere torrent file can be painted as infringement.
Book publishers in Germany, however, think they can take this never ending game to a whole new level.
Last Sunday Der Tagesspiegel published an interesting interview with a representative of a site offering ebooks without the permission of the authors. The site, which was founded in late 2012 and claims to be the largest pirate ebook site in
Germany, says it serves up 1.5 million books every month.
By now many readers will be wondering which site this is. Der Tagesspiegel obviously thought the same so quite reasonably named it as Boox.to.
The reaction from the publishers to that revelation was quite astonishing. According to Buchreport the publishers filed a criminal complaint, not against Boox.to, but against both Der Tagesspiegel and Zeit.de who had republished the article.
Their claim: by naming the site the publications had assisted copyright infringement. The publishers write in their complaint:
The publication of the Website and its Internet address immediately enabled a broad mass of readers to become aware of the site. The reader is also indirectly encouraged to take advantage of the offer, taking advantage of the illegal site that
has been highlighted by the play of the interview.
But it is hard to get something banned without mentioning what is being banned. Speaking with TorrentFreak, the admin of Boox.to said:
Soon people found out that the online magazine of the German Book Publishers Association had itself published the complete URL of the site. Well, then there was just laughter and tears.
So the criminal complaint was publicly dumped during the first few hours. The criminal complaint itself was made as a matter of principle without any prospect of success in a German court room.
It's notable that the criminal complaint also named the site in question so that the authorities could properly investigate the matter.
In the UK, rightsholders have the power to demand arbitrary censorship of websites they dislike, and ISPs are required to block those sites. The Premier League carelessly added the IP address of a major web-host to its censorship list, and as a
result blocked The Radio Times, Galaxy Zoo, and many other legitimate sites.
People who tried to visit those sites instead saw a warning saying that the sites were devoted to copyright infringement and that anyone visiting them was also infringing copyright.
ISPs were flooded with complaints, and began to unblock the sites themselves.
But the Premier League is outraged at this. They say that even if the Premier League censored the wrong sites, it isn't up to the ISPs to uncensor them, the ISPs are supposed to comply with the lists they get from rightsholders, no
KTVU, the San Francisco TV station that displayed a bunch of jokey pilot names on a newscast about the Asiana crash, is now misusing copyright law to take down clips that record its mistake for posterity.
The station syas that everyone has seen the clips and that it was an accidental mistake , and that this somehow justifies multiple acts of copyfraud against services around the Internet and their users.
The UK High Court has been handing out website blocking injunctions regularly in recent months but despite the supposed transparency of the legal system, obtaining copies of the injunctions has proved impossible.
Now the Open Rights Group is putting pressure on the Court in the hope of being able to publish the content of injunctions for open analysis.
Although controversial, the reasons why sites such as The Pirate Bay, KickassTorrents and Movie2K are being blocked are now clear. Once ISPs have actual knowledge that their services are being used by their subscribers to infringe
copyright, they are put on notice by the High Court to block the sites in question.
However, it has become somewhat tiresome to learn that when injunctions are handed down by the High Court to ISPs, they appear to fall into some kind of informational black hole -- fitting perhaps for a document authorizing censorship.
To try and find out what these injunctions contain TorrentFreak previously spoke with one of the leading ISPs who assured us that the documents aren't actually secret. However, when we requested a copy we were told that they couldn't send us one
and we would have to go to the Court instead. No luck there -- and the BPI weren't exactly forthcoming either.
Now the Open Rights Group is reporting that it too has been trying to get to the bottom of the website injunction blackout. ORG's Jim Killock says everyone could benefit from their publication. Accountability, fewer errors and less confusion
about what is happening should be the result, he says.
Killock reveals that ORG has also asked ISPs to cooperate but they too have been met with reluctance. Possibly [the ISPs] feel that copyright owners asking for the orders may find publication by an ISP provocative. This means we are obliged to
ask the courts for the documents, in order that we can publish and analyse their contents, he explains.
But ORG found that the courts didn't want to help either, turning down the group's requests to view the injunctions. They have done this because, they say, 'judgement has not been entered' or 'service has not been acknowledged'. At present the
rules governing access to court documents only permit access to these orders as of right once the litigation has finished, Killock explains. The courts seem to be treating blocking injunctions as if they were like temporary injunctions
made while proceedings are still going on. In fact the injunctions are the end of the section 97A process. Nothing more is intended to happen.
With this in mind, ORG have applied to have a procedural judge review the group's requests in order to gain access, at least in the first instance, to the injunctions issued to the ISPs against Fenopy, H33t and KickassTorrents.
After years of debate and controversy the French Government has finally backtracked on the law which allowed errant subscribers to be disconnected from the Internet. This morning a decree was published which removed the possibility for
file-sharers to have their connections cut for copyright infringement. Instead, those caught by rightsholders will now be subjected to a system of automated fines.
The so-called graduated response to the file-sharing issue has for years been championed by the mainstream music and movie industries. One of the first countries to see value in the idea was France, and under the supportive eye of
ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy, Hadopi was born. The taxpayer-funded agency would oversee monitoring of Internet subscribers along with a mechanism for sending them successive warnings, each designed to be more worrying than the last.
Controversially, the final warning would result in Internet disconnection.
However, the idea that these threats would entice subscribers into music and movie stores and away from unauthorized sites in a meaningful way never came to be. In June, a nine-member panel lead by former Canal Plus chairman Pierre Lescure
produced a 700 page report on policies for advancing entertainment industries in the digital age. Among other things, the panel concluded that the three strikes mechanism had failed to benefit authorized services as promised. It also recommended
that the ultimate sanction of Internet disconnections for infringers should be dumped.
That recommendation has now been carried out by the French Government. Earlier this morning the Ministry of Culture published official decree No. 0157 of July 9, 2013 which removed the additional misdemeanor punishable by suspension of access
to a communication service. The decree goes on to explain that file-sharing offenses may still be punishable by a fine, up to 1500 euros in the case of gross negligence.
Following the introduction of restrictions against file-sharing services, Mastercard and Visa have now started to take action against VPN providers.
This week, Swedish payment provider Payson cut access to anonymizing services after being ordered to do so by the credit card companies.
VPN provider iPredator is one of the affected customers and founder Peter Sunde says that they are considering legal action to get the service unblocked.
Payment providers are increasingly taking action against sites and services that are linked to copyright infringement. There's an unwritten rule that Mastercard and Visa don't accept file-hosting sites that have an affiliate program and PayPal
has thrown out nearly all cyberlockers in recent months. It now turns out that these policies have carried over to VPN providers and other anonymizing services.
Before the weekend customers of the popular Swedish payment service provider Payson received an email stating that VPN services are no longer allowed to accept Visa and Mastercard payments due to a recent policy change:
Payson has restrictions against anonymization (including VPN services). As a result Payson can unfortunately no longer give your customers the option to finance payments via their cards (VISA or MasterCard).
The new policy went into effect on Monday, leaving customers with a two-day window to find a solution.