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Culture secretary: search engines and ISPs must help fight net piracy

Google isn't keen on new proposals

Search engines such as Google, along with ISPs, must make it harder for web users to access copyright-infringing material on the web, believes the culture secretary.

During a speech to the Royal Television Society Jeremy Hunt outlined a range of measures that could be included in the new Communications Bill in a bid to "make life more difficult for sites that ignore the law". Among them was asking search engines and ISPs to take reasonable steps to make it harder to access sites that a court has deemed contain unlawful content or promote unlawful distribution of content.

Hunt also called for advertisers to remove their ads from these sites and credit-card companies and banks to stop them being able to take payments.

"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," Hunt said.

"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. Likewise, we should be entitled to make it more difficult to access sites that are dedicated to the infringement of copyright."

However, Google revealed it is unlikely to bow to the government's wishes.

"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," the search engine said.

Google said its own process, which sees links to copyright-infringing material taken down, has already removed three million items from its search results.

Furthermore, Hunt also proposed a "streamlined" legal process that will ensure courts can act quickly in deeming content unlawful and the introduction of a cross-industry body to identify websites hosting illegal content. The culture secretary said this could be modelled on the current Internet Watch Foundation, which takes down websites containing child pornography.

The government hopes the Communications Act will work alongside the Digital Economy Act, which was made law in April last year, and already sets out a number of anti-piracy measures.

However, Jim Killock, chief executive of the Open Rights Group, told the BBC it was "pretty dangerous to ask credit-card companies or Google to decide who is guilty".

"Once again, Mr Hunt has listened to the lobbyists and made no attempt to work out the scale of the problem. We are back where we were with the DEA (Digital Economy Act), which is proving unworkable and an expensive nightmare," he said.

The government is also considering including a clause in the Communications Act that will require ISPs to ensure all customers make an active choice about the use of parental-controls software.

The new Communications Act, which is currently considering consultation responses and is due to become law before the end of this Parliament in 2015, also covers the roll out of super-fast broadband and 4G mobile networks.

"In the past year, we have made excellent progress towards our ambition to have the best super-fast broadband network in Europe by 2015. I believe we can deliver that ambition," Hunt said.

He revealed he will be working closely with Ofcom in the coming months to ensure a satisfactory price is agreed so ISPs can access BT's ducts and poles in a bid to offer fibre broadband services to areas that don't have super-fast net access.

"We also need to recognise that the future is not simply about super-fast broadband - it is also about super-fast mobile. So, we must press on as quickly as possible with the 4G auction," he said. Hunt also called for mobile phone operators to put aside "competitive differences and work together in their common - and our national - interest to make this happen".

Paul Donovan, UK country manager at networking equipment manufacturer Netgear, believes that as the 4G auction in the UK stalls, businesses will suffer.

"The fourth generation is needed so people can get a fast and reliable internet connection on their mobile devices while working away from the office. There has been a rise of guest devices in businesses as smartphones and tablets pile into the workplace. Businesses need to prepare their networks to match the demand from employees' mobile devices," he said.

"It's clear that many employees want to work on these devices, but because of poor mobile connections they are limited to the office and where there is a good wireless connection. There is no doubt that flexible working can improve efficiency, but only when we have a fast mobile connection will UK businesses experience the true benefits of mobile working."


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