Britain Asks: If Google Can Block Child Pornography, Why Can’t They Block Infringing Content?

It’s one of the sharpest attacks yet on Google, but ultimately, a really simple question.  And now, the British government is asking it out loud.

  • Save

The line of questioning, between House of Commons MP Paul Farrelly and Google head of UK Policy Sarah Hunter, was conducted several months ago in hearings by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, a cross-party group that aims to protect creative industries.

That exchange was just one ‘exhibit’ factored into a massive recommendation released today (September 26th), one that could pave the way for far greater oversight of search engines in the country.  Ultimately, Conservative member of Parliament John Whittingdale, the committee chairman, said he was “deeply unimpressed” with Google’s circular logic and explanations, especially since it may be coming at the deep expense of film and music content owners.

  • Save

Indeed, that was a major takeaway echoed throughout the multi-volume report, and potentially the start of serious regulatory action.  “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,” the report concludes.

“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.”

And on the topic of selective blocking and child pornography, the language becomes more direct.  “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.”

The complete report can be found here (vol.1) and here (vol.2).

46 Responses

  1. David

    Just to be pedantic, it isn’t the British Government as such asking these questions. It is an all-party Committee of the House of Commons, which is supposed to be independent of Government, and does indeed often criticise Government policies. In this report it is critical of the Government’s weakness in depending copyright. But the conclusions are mostly well-argued, and the Committee certainly skewers the evasiveness of Google’s witnesses.

  2. Visitor

    Is there a more artist friendly search engine? I really don’t want to support Google. Any recommendations?

      • Visitor

        “We are a startup company so much to do/improve”
        And the first thing you have to improve is the url: You’ll want a 6-8 charachters .com domain.
        But I hope you’ll succeed.
        Google is getting old. The world needs a modern alternative.

        • Visitor

          Bing, Yahoo, Duck Duck Go etc. Plenty of others. Question is are any of them really artist friendly? I know Google is the big bad guy on the block, but what have any of the other search giants done to help artists?

          • Visitor

            “Question is are any of them really artist friendly?”
            No, that’s not the question. Nobody expects Big Tech to be ‘artist friendly’.
            The problem with Google is that their business model and entire philosophy is based on theft and infringement.
            Look at Android vs. Apple. Look at Google vs. musicians. Look at Google vs. authors. Look at Google vs. Hollywood.
            It’s always the same story:
            Google never creates — Google steals.
            Inventions, patents, books, software, movies, songs…

      • Bob

        I would suggest a site name that couldn’t potentially be seen as infringing on Apple’s software (AirPlay), which is used to stream media to other devices. The “streaming media” part could be seen as close enough to cause or warrant confusion amongst, or mislead, consumers into falsely assuming a relation between the two services.
        Just my two cents.

  3. jw

    I think these quotes are very insightful, that there is no software technology filtering out child porn from Google’s database, only a manually updated list of offending sites.
    The reason this can be done is because it’s from a single, trusted source. Imagine giving copyright owners free reign to remove listings from Google’s database. There wouldn’t be an internet left after they got done with it. Fair use would cease to exist.

    • AnAmusedGeek

      I found this interesting as well – its basically the same as the DMCA take down system, except the ‘take-downs’ all come from a single source.

      Unfortunately, the licensing maze around music probably prevents a single authorative list from being generated for music?

      Anyway, it puts to rest the myth that google has some “magic tech” that prevents child porn from showing up and they are just ‘out to screw musicians’ … It turns out its just good old fashioned elbow grease. ( I wonder how they generate the list? You can’t really use volunteers, as they’d all get busted for looking at kiddie porn ? )

    • Visitor

      So you’re saying this Pirate Bay is, like, you know, a criminal site?
      Gee whiz, how were we to know?
      Erik Zchmitt

    • David

      It would be perfectly simple to have a system based on DMCA notices. Google (and other search engines) could simply delete search results for sites that had received more than a threshold number (maybe 1,000) of uncontested (or contested but upheld) takedown notices in the last month. If an ‘innocent’ site (like YouTube, hence the inverted commas round ‘innocent’) found that they were hosting a large amount of infringing content, they would either have to take more effective action against it, or live with the consequence of being excluded from search results. This would not ‘break the internet’, it would just introduce an incentive to responsible behavior which is lacking at present.

      • Visitor

        It would be perfectly simple to have a system based on DMCA notices. Google (and other search engines) could simply delete search results for sites that had received more than a threshold number (maybe 1,000) of uncontested (or contested but upheld) takedown notices in the last month.”
        Very good suggestion, David!
        And Google knows it’s the way to go — they already do what you propose on YouTube:
        Copyright strike basics
        “YouTube removes content when we receive complete and valid removal requests. When content is removed, a strike is applied to the uploader’s account.
        If you receive three copyright strikes, your account will be suspended and all the videos uploaded to your account will be removed. Users with suspended accounts are prohibited from creating new accounts.”

      • jw

        It works in theory, but in practice, it’s something entirely different.
        Part of the problem is that site owners aren’t likely to be aware of their listings being removed from Google. For instance, a music blog may have posted an mp3 it recieved from a label representative. The legal department of that label has no idea where it came from, so they assume it’s a copyright violation. It shows up on search results for “[band name] mp3,” & so they sent it, along with 1,000 other URLs that they’re assuming are violations (no license inquiry, or any due diligence whatsoever), to Google to be taken down. The site owner is likely never to know the content was removed from Google unless they Google “[band name] mp3” or “[site name] [band name]” & then check the DMCA notices at the bottom of the search result page. And if content owners had their way, the site owner wouldn’t even be able to do that, it would just disappear into the ether.
        There’s really no way for Google to correspond with site owners during this process, which is important given that copyright owners can’t be trusted to act in good faith when it comes to DMCA takedown notices (see the Charlie Brown/Smiths story). This sets up a scenario where perfectly legitimate sites, or heavily trafficed sites that allow users to upload content, can be unfairly targeted on a month-to-month basis & removed from Google without any input from the site owner.
        Child pornography is an OBSERVABLE offense. Issues related to copyright & licensing are not. That’s why that system does not work.

        • Visitor

          so the legal dept and rep of the same lable have to get on the same page. hardly a big deal if the payoff is reduced piracy but active marketing.

          • jw

            But how are you going to know they’re on the same page? Where’s the oversight for something like this? Keep in mind that this isn’t just the music industry, it’s content owners across the board.
            With child pornography there is no due process, which is mostly fine because it’s an observable offense. When it comes to copyright, things are far more complex. Surely that can be appreciated.
            If it were up to UMG, you wouldn’t even be able to tweet a Smiths lyric without repercussions.
            Google’s method for censoring child porn only works because of the nature of the crime & the motivations of the censors, it just can’t be easily applied to copyright.

          • Visitor

            “With child pornography there is no due process, which is mostly fine because it’s an observable offense. When it comes to copyright, things are far more complex”
            Pure nonsense, even for a notorious pro-pirate like you.
            The Pirate Bay isn’t complex in any way.
            It’s a criminal organization, created by convicted criminals, always on the run from the law, banned or blocked by a wide and growing range of countries.

          • jw

            Maybe the pirate bay is straight forward, but it gets very hairy very fast. I think it’s more an issue of… there’s no way to automate removal of pages that violate copyright, & there’s no trusted source for a list of offending pages/domains outside of addressing DMCA notices on a case-by-case basis. Considering that, where do you draw the line? Obviously Google wants to avoid having to investigate the licensing of every single page they list, & rightfully so… that would break the search engine & provide a competitive advantage to other search engines who are less stringent, even if not especially when a user is searching for legal content.
            Removing the Pirate Bay from their listings, while justified, would be a somewhat arbitrary choice. The same people you would satisfy with that move would just have another request as soon as that move is made, & Google effectively becomes the judge & jury, deciding which of these requests to honor & which to disregard. And that’s not their responsibility. So I don’t think Google is going to act until there’s a more systematic approach.

        • Visitor

          “Child pornography is an OBSERVABLE offense. Issues related to copyright & licensing are not.”
          Um, let’s try again:
          “So this Pirate Bay on the Interweb is a criminal site?
          Geez, why didn’t anybody tell us?”

        • David

          I assumed, perhaps wrongly, that when copyright holders send a DCMA notice to Google or other search engines, either they or Google would also send one to the original site. (Isn’t this required by the legislation? If it isn’t, that should be corrected.) Of course, for various reasons it may not be possible to do so (e.g. the site is in some dodgy country and has no address for notices to be sent to).
          Obviously in working out the details of the system there would have to be some provision for sites to be notified that they were being deleted from search results, and maybe a prior warning before they reached the ‘threshold’. That’s a technicality.
          As for the claim that DMCA notices are often abused, I’m not aware of any evidence for that. Even Larry Lessig never seems to produce more than a handful of threadbare and dubious examples. As for the Charlie Brown/Smith’s case, I don’t know much about it, but on glancing at some reports I hardly think you can claim ‘bad faith’. It’s a perfectly clear prima facie case of copyright infringement. Maybe the authors of the ‘mashup’ can claim a fair use defence, but that’s an argument for them to make, not for the copyright holders to anticipate. I hazard a guess that Morrissey is more concerned about his lyrics being abused than about any loss of royalties, but that’s a legitimate reason for taking copyright action, and in most of the world would be covered by the ‘moral rights’ of authors.

          • jw

            From Google’s FAQ…
            For Search, it is extremely difficult to provide meaningful notice to webmasters whose pages have been identified in copyright removal requests, because we do not necessarily know their identities or have an effective means of contacting them. If users have registered with our Webmaster Tools as web site owners, we will notify them there.
            I think that’s a little bit more than a technicality to be worked out. It would be easy if everything on the internet was tied to a single domain with up-to-date contact information. But the vast majority of content on the web is hosted by a non-owner (i.e. facebook, twitter, tumblr, pinterest, imgur, reddit, youtube, etc.). How do you contact that person without getting private information from the hosting service? And that’s just one of many roadblocks.
            The Charlie Brown/Smiths case isn’t a matter of legality. It’s just legal trolling. When I was in school I used to draw metal band logos & write lyrics on my notebooks. That was my self-expression. Now a days that stuff happens online on Tumblr & the like, only for some reason giant corporations give a shit & will apparently take legal action against you. If corporations had their way, the internet would just be one giant shopping mall. They have no patience for self-expression or identity or any of the great things that the internet affords, things that should be protected. How is the Charlie Brown/Smiths thing any different than Andy Warhol using a Campbell’s Soup can to make a larger point about culture & consumption? You have to accept that when you release something into culture people are going to talk about, parody it, absorb it into their own identity, use it as a cultural touchpoint to express larger or more abstract observations, etc.
            Content owners have to be kept in check on the internet.

          • David

            If websites are uncontactable, then (a) they are either incompetent or deliberately hiding their identity, and (b) they are not eligible for ‘safe harbor’ protection.
            As to the Charlie Brown case, if you don’t see the difference between scribbling on a private notebook and publishing something to the entire world, you can’t have given much thought to the subject. You may well think Universal’s action is humorless (but they may be acting on instruction from Morrissey), but it is not ‘legal trolling’ in the accepted sense of that term.

          • jw

            If websites are uncontactable, then (a) they are either incompetent or deliberately hiding their identity, and (b) they are not eligible for ‘safe harbor’ protection.
            Domain registrars make loads of cash charging registrants for privacy services. There are a number of reasons registrants might want privacy, not the least of which is identity theft. If you’d like to get that information, subpoena the registrar. The registrant doesn’t forfeit any rights in that scenario, as far as I can tell (as a layman). Furthermore, when content is hosted by a third party, the sharing of contact information is governed by a terms of service agreement which likely procludes the service from sharing that contact information. And again, I don’t see any rights being forfeited. Granted, the third party would likely make the user aware of the alleged infraction once they have been contacted, though there’s no guarantee of that. And I don’t see this being as much a safe harbor issue as it is a fair use issue.
            Regarding the Charlie Brown case, I’ve actually given it a lot of thought, & I think that our difference in philosophy is likely generational. Sketches on a Tumblr are to sketches on a personal notebook the same way that a personal blog is to a notebook journal, just as a facebook friend you only know online may be no different than a friend who grew up in your neighborhood. “Publishing,” in the traditional sense, has nothing to do with it.

  4. Visitor

    “Tory MP John Whittingdale, the chairman of the committee, said his fellow MPs were “unimpressed by Google’s continued failure to stop directing consumers to illegal, copyright infringing material on the flimsy excuse that some of the sites may also host some legal content. The continuing promotion of illegal content through search engines is simply unacceptable, and efforts to stop it have so far been derisory.”
    In a report, published on Thursday, the MPs also said Google was foremost among internet giants in being able to influence coalition policy-making. MPs said they had received “numerous complaints” from across the creative industries about Google’s “perceived power and influence in the government’s inner, policy-making sanctum”.
    The report highlighted a remark by the business minister Lord Younger, who told the MPs in evidence to their committee: “Google is one of several search engines and I am very aware of their power, put it that way. I am also very aware … that they have access, for whatever reason, to higher levels than me in No 10, I understand.””
    “MPs added that internet pirates convicted of running commercial websites that rip off music, films and video games should face up to a decade in jail, up from the current maximum of two years.”
    “Whittingdale said: “Britain’s creative industries are of huge importance to our economy and as successful as any in the world. We are blessed in the UK with extraordinary creativity which is backed up by superb training in technical skills and a supportive tax regime. However, all this will be put at risk if creators cannot rely on a strong framework of intellectual property rights which are robustly enforced.”
    In the report, the MPs said: “If organised crime involving online piracy on a commercial scale is to be tackled and deterred, it is essential that this discrepancy between the online and offline worlds be rectified.””

  5. Tune Hunter

    Yet another proof that we need Central Music (media) Bank.
    Google would be perfect executor and operator.
    All tunes delivered from one single source to YouTube, Spotify, iTunes, radio stations, suprmarket or restaurant sound track …..etc.
    The same operator pays creators and all parties involved in management and distribution on monthly basis.
    Content not conected with new Central Music Bank is subject to instant takedown.

  6. Bob

    “So pirating music is only slightly illegal?”
    I do believe she was ‘slightly’ owned by that comment.

    • Visitor

      “I do believe she was ‘slightly’ owned by that comment.”
      Slightly? 🙂

      • Fuzz

        Do all crimes carry the same punishment? Do we execute all convicted criminals no matter how minor the infraction?
        No. Well, then I guess she’s right.

    • DUDE

      ‘Slightly illegal’ vs ‘fully illegal’ is a disingenuous argument dude, thats like arguing smoking a j is just as bad as murdering someone because both are equally illegal. Assuming, of course, that we can all agree distributing child porn is a more heinous offense than illegally distributing copyrighted material…
      I dont think anyone got even slightly owned by that bullshit line but thats just me

  7. Dude 2

    Child Pornography, in all forms, is illegal. Like, say, bomb-making instructions.
    Music is not illegal.
    If you think your music being pirated is the same as being sexually abused as a child, then someone really needs to sexually abuse your children and give you some perspective.

    • Visitor

      “Child Pornography, in all forms, is illegal”
      Of course, and so is music piracy.
      The problem is that Google makes fortunes from music piracy.

  8. Visitor

    Google took copyright crime to the next level today:
    If you’re signed into a Gmail- or YouTube account, YouTube opens a ‘Recommended for you’-page.
    And one of the 24 videos YouTube recommends to me today is “[name of software] Crack”.
    Please note that I have never ever searched for cracked, pirated or otherwise stolen versions of any kind of software, music or other IP-products.
    So Google’s recommendation is entirely based on the company’s own pro-crime policy.

  9. Visitor

    “If Google Can Block Child Pornography, Why Can’t They Block Infringing Content?”
    Because their business model is based on infringement, not on child pornography.

    • Jaded Industry Dude

      Exactly. As already noted in the article, some artists want their music on these services that also service illegal content.

    • Fuzzz

      Can we get real. Just for second. And maybe agree that child pornagraphy is in a completely different class of evil than pirated music.

      • Visitor

        Piracy and child pornography are related crimes: People who defend one, often defend the other.
        A good example is Pirate Party founder and TorrentFreak columnist Mr. Falkvinge:
        Three Reason Child Porn Must Be Re-legalized In The Coming Decade:

        • Fuzz

          Sorry Vistor. Child Porn and Piracy are related only to the extent that they are both crimes. The same way that shoplifting a candy bar from the local petrol station and stabing your own mum in the face 100 times are both crimes.
          You can pretty easily dismiss anyone who advocates for the legalization of Child Porn as irrelevent.
          You can dismiss most of the simpletons that think “content should be free” as well, but you’re equally daft if you think the issues that our modern music industry faces are as black and white as kiddie porn.

          • Visitor

            “You can pretty easily dismiss anyone who advocates for the legalization of Child Porn as irrelevent.
            You can dismiss most of the simpletons that think “content should be free” as well”
            I’m sure you mean well. A lot of people still don’t know how close pirates & pedophiles are today. Let’s hope articles like this will change that.
            Perhaps you have heard of, one of the largest and most visited forums for criminals on the web.
            TorrentFreak’s most popular guest writer is the notorious pro-pedophile Mr. Falkvinge, who also founded the first Pirate Party as mentioned elsewhere in this thread.
            Nobody has spent more time defending men’s right to abuse children than Mr. Falkvinge.
            Nobody has spent more time defending pirates’ right to steal other people’s property than Mr. Falkvinge.
            And that’s how Mr. Falkvinge became the superstar of today’s pirate & pedophile movement.
            Don’t believe their hype. Pirates & pedophiles are parasites who prey on all the good things in life, always on the run from the law, always helping each other inventing new ways of hiding their activities in the same dark networks, always warning each other of new security flaws in products such as Tor, always leaving huge trails of destruction behind.
            Don’t defend them like Google did for years.
            Microsoft, Facebook and lots of other Big Tech companies adopted PhotoDNA long before Google and showed the world how easy and effectively it could be used to stop violence against children.
            And most huge tech companies, except Google, have turned their backs on the commercial Piracy Industry, blocking criminal websites, banning their ads, stopping their payments, etc.
            Don’t be like Google.
            Don’t be the last guy defending pirates & pedophiles.
            They’re not worth it.

        • Brook Rivers

          Related, but not importantly. Infringement of copyright harms property interest. Child pornography harms people who cannot otherwise protect themselves. The difference is not only what or who is affected, but in degree.

          • Visitor

            “Child pornography harms people who cannot otherwise protect themselves.”
            Oh, I see.
            Please explain how musicians can protect themselves against the Pirate Bay.

          • GGG

            Forcing a child in porn and stealing someones music are the same thing? Jesus christ, dude, get a grip.

          • Visitor

            Not sure what you mean.
            Child porn victims and Pirate Bay victims certainly have this in common — contrary to what Brook Rivers said:
            They can’t protect themselves against abuse.
            Which is why it is so important that politicians finally stand up against the abusers.
            Some elements in life are indeed as fragile as they are important.
            Nature, children, music, peace.

          • thereal

            No one forced any of us into the music business.
            90’s and early ’00 levels of piracy were a major blow, but we’ve dealt with piracy in some form for the entire life of the industry. We adjust, it’s just a market reality that we deal with. We deal with it through enforcement, greater hype, consolidation. We lobby and pressure companies that don’t act in our interest.
            But, for fuck’s sake man, ain’t none of us helpless and beaten on the streets or trapped in a predator’s basement.

          • Visitor

            The purpose of anti-piracy is not to protect individual artists.
            The purpose is to protect art.
            Because art is indeed fragile.
            The secondary purpose is to protect society.
            Because we’re still in a financial crisis.
            This means we can’t afford to lose millions of jobs because of piracy.
            But we do:
            The price of piracy
            10 billion Euros and 185,000 European jobs in 2008.

            58 billion dollars and 373,000 American jobs in 2007.
            Siwek, Stephen E.,The True Cost of Piracy to the U.S. Economy, report for the Institute for Policy Innovation, Oct. 2007.

          • GGG

            My point is your crusade against piracy loses it’s edge when you equate it with child porn. It doesn’t look like you’re making piracy look worse, it makes it look like you’re downplaying child porn.

          • Visitor

            “My point is”
            Sorry, but you don’t have one.
            The topic of this article — and thread — is that British politicians find it peculiar that Google co-operates with law enforcement agencies to limit one single aspect of Organized Internet Crime, but for unknown reasons refuses to limit the rest.
            I share their view, and I’m addressing that topic.
            If that makes you uncomfortable, given your own pirate-past, then so be it.