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Google and Microsoft agree to demote infringing content as part of UK anti-piracy Code

Google and Microsoft have agreed to a Voluntary Code of Practice (the ‘Code’) developed by representatives from the creative industries, UK search engines and the Intellectual Property Office (‘IPO’), which will see both companies take steps to demote copyright infringing content within their UK search results, so that such links do not appear on the first page of results for common searches; the Code was announced on 20 February 2017. The anti-piracy agreement aims to enable search engines and the creative industries to work closely together to prevent consumers from being presented with copyright infringing websites.

The Code will come into force immediately and sets targets for reducing the visibility of infringing content in search results by 1 June 2017; implementation will be overseen by Minister of State Jo Johnson MP and the IPO, according to a press release issued by the IPO. “Most technology companies are likely to prefer a voluntary industry code to strict regulation,” said Gregor Pryor, Partner at Reed Smith. “Failure of the code may suggest that legislative measures are the only way forward.”

The UK Government states that one of the aims of the Code is to ensure that consumers are presented with links to legitimate websites and services when performing searches online and not provided with links to pirate sites. “The crackdown may have spillover effects,” continues Pryor; “copyright infringing sites that are particularly popular now i.e. that have international/Europe-wide appeal and reach) but end up being demoted are likely to be more difficult to find for users outside of the UK as well. Should this happen, this may in turn encourage regulators in other countries to take similar steps.”

The British Phonographic Association and the Motion Picture Association are also signatories to the Code, whilst the Software Alliance and the Premier League are amongst a number of organisations who have indicated their agreement under the umbrella of Alliance for IP.

“Without knowing the exact terms and the targets agreed, it is impossible to assess the potential impact of this measure,” continues Pryor. “Google has long argued that search engines are not a major source of traffic to piracy websites. The Code will not affect those users who already have links to pirate sites. It is also possible that while a particular site may not appear high in the search results, links to pirate sites will be shared in private messages and on various fora. This may undermine the effectiveness of the contemplated measures” said Pryor, stressing that this new initiative has to be seen as only one method of tackling online infringements.

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