Jeremy Hunt calls on search engines to back anti-piracy plans
The Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has called on search engines like Google, as well as internet service providers, to bar links to websites offering pirated content in a bid to stem the proliferation of illegal downloads.
Under the new proposals, advertisers would also be expected to pull all adverts from pirate websites and banks and credit card companies would be asked not to deal with transactions involving any site offering illegal content.
"We do not allow certain products to be sold in the shops on the high street, nor do we allow shops to be set up purely to sell counterfeited products," Mr Hunt told the Royal Television Society's Cambridge Convention. He added: "Likewise we should be entitled to make it more difficult to access sites that are dedicated to the infringement of copyright. Sites that are misleading customers and denying creators fair reward for their work."
Mr Hunt rejected suggestions that taking on pirated material online is "an assault on the 'freedom' of the internet", telling the audience that "unlawfully distributing copyrighted material is theft - and a direct assault on the freedoms and rights of creators of content to be rewarded fairly for their efforts".
He added: "Fundamental to our concept of both freedom and the law is that it should apply to everyone without fear or favour. This means it must apply equally in the virtual world as in the physical world."
In July, BT was ordered by a judge to block its subscribers from accessing Newzbin2, which was found to be linking to illegal downloads elsewhere online. Mr Justice Arnold said at the time that the Hollywood studios which brought the case made it clear they intended it as a test case and Mr Hunt has taken their lead.
But his proposals are unlikely to be welcomed by search engines, some of whom feel they are unwieldy and will not be as effective as measures they already have in place, which allow users to target pirated material and have it removed.
A spokesman for internet giant Google said the company has "industry-leading measures to fight online piracy". He added: "We work hand in hand with copyright owners to remove infringing material from search results. Without a court order, any copyright owner can already use our removals process to inform us of copyright infringing content and have it removed from Google Search.
"We recently announced a series of measures that make this process even easier, bringing our removal time down to an average of four hours."
But search engines and ISPs who do not comply voluntarily will have little choice but to fall into line, should the Culture Secretary carry out his threat to pursue "legislative solutions".
Mr Hunt also proposed a "streamlined legal process", which would allow legal action to be brought against those accused of copyright infringement more quickly, and a "cross-industry body, perhaps modelled on the Internet Watch Foundation, to be charged with identifying infringing websites against which action could be taken".
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