The Motion Picture Association, representing the largest US film producers, has told EURACTIV it is joining with the European film industry to pressure Google on piracy.
The move comes amidst an ongoing dispute between the search giant and news organisations in France, Germany and Italy, which are seeking mandatory charges from Google for using their content in its searches.
These challenges have come in addition to Google's ongoing spats with the European Commission over data privacy and the company's dominance on the internet search market (see background).
Christopher Marcich, president of the Motion Picture Association in Europe, put more pressure on Google this week, telling EURACTIV that an alliance of US and European film producers is ready to fight the search giant over copyright piracy issues.
Marcich pointed to Ipsos MORI research released last year in respect of the UK, which found that piracy accounted for £511 million (€638 million) losses in television and film during 2011.
He said that pirate sites abetted by the search engine were causing this loss by encouraging the illegal broadcast of current film releases.
Whilst acknowledging that Google is not the only search engine against which the industry is seeking redress, he said the size of Google put the company is a special league.
Google uses freedom of expression arguments
“They played an aggressive part in the Stop Online Piracy Act debate, and have argued strongly that any attempt to regulate the internet is a threat to freedom of expression, but then they threaten to boycott the French press, which hardly appears to tally with notions of freedom of speech,” Marcich said, referring to the current fight between Google and the newspaper industry in France – Google has threatened to stop indexing French news sites if forced to pay a so-called “Google tax”.
The attack follows a climb-down by Google in August, when it accepted that it would take into account the number of valid copyright takedown notices that it received for any given sites in search results.
The decision followed prolonged behind-the-scenes lobbying by the music and film industries to get Google to demote the search position of sites which they say infringe their copyrights, such as the Pirate Bay.
Marcich suggested that Google’s admission that it could alter its algorithm revealed that its claims to be neutral are bogus.
“The search engine must take responsibility. They claim that the algorithm has a neutral pointer function but that is not true, and they recently accepted that they can change the algorithm,” Marcich said, adding: “Google should not be allowed to govern the internet themselves.”
He said the European Commission could encourage the stakeholders to find solutions, and claimed that Hollywood was uniting with European industry to make common cause against the search giant.
Old animosities buried
“The issue has helped overcome old animosities [with the European rights holders] and has brought us together with French, German, UK, Italian, Russian and Spanish industries,” Marcich said.
The Motion Picture Association includes film companies such as Universal, Sony, 20th Century Fox, Columbia, Disney, Time Warner, Viacom and Paramount.
A spokesman for Google in Europe said that the company had already made efforts to meet the concerns of industry over piracy.
In addition to the algorithm change, Google expanded a system of transparency reporting in May, under which it discloses the number of requests it receives from copyright owners to remove Google Search results because they allegedly link to infringing content.
The spokesman pointed to a recent report commissioned by Google which suggested that instead of imposing blocks on the internet, governments should construct coalitions with reputable advertising networks, payment processors and rightsholders.
“The way to tackle the problem is by cutting off sources of funding to copyright infringing sites,” the spokesman said.
“There is a sense that Google have been buying time and that they are not doing more than they have to,” said Marcich.
“There will be more and more public pressure on them [Google]; they are already facing increasing legal actions especially on competition and privacy issues,” he added.
Google’s is currently embroiled in two key disputes with the European Commission.
This followed EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding's publication in March 2011 of new privacy rules for personal data held on the Internet, including a "right to be forgotten" that would allow users to permanently delete data held by companies.
Meanwhile in November 2010, the Commission launched an antitrust investigation into allegations that Google had abused a dominant market position in the internet search market.
The probe followed a complaint by Google’s rival Microsoft, and remains subject to negotiation between the Commission and the search giant.
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