Google in Australia: Sudden Conversion or Tactical Manoeuvre?

From Hugh Stephens Blog:

In news coming out of Australia, it has been reported that Google has voluntarily agreed to de-index several hundred websites that distribute pirated audio-visual content. This will make it more difficult although not impossible for Australian consumers to access these sites. Village Roadshow Chairman Graham Burke, Australia’s most prominent anti-piracy crusader, has been reported as saying, with regard to Google, “We’ve gone from being enemies to being allies”. That’s quite a transformation.

Google has apparently agreed to voluntarily remove from its search engine results any sites that ISPs in Australia are required to block as a result of court orders under relatively new provisions of Australian law.

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These amendments require internet providers to block websites identified by content owners (and ratified by a court order) that infringe, facilitate infringement or whose primary purpose or effect is infringement. In addition to an expanded requirement for action by internet providers (referred to as Carriage Service Providers in Australia), and new measures to prevent “site-hopping” by pirate sites, the 2018 copyright amendments also required search engines to block or de-index search results for sites subject a court order. Google fought long and hard against that particular amendment, without success.

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Google . . .  argued that the there was no evidence that the existing law was deficient and claimed its own voluntary takedown process in response to complaints from rights owners was sufficient. This prompted Graham Burke to describe Google’s efforts as a “sham”. Burke’s submission to the legislative review process claimed that; “Their sole interest is using a treasure trove of stolen movies as part of attracting people to a business model that is strengthened by theft…Google auto complete and search are used to steal movies”. Despite opposition from Google and some others, the amendment passed in the Australian Parliament last autumn, with broad bipartisan support.

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At the same time, in the aftermath to the tragic shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, in April the Australian Parliament passed (again with bipartisan support) robust legislation holding the executives of social media platforms, including Google-owned YouTube, criminally responsible (and the companies corporately responsible), if violent material is not removed expeditiously after notification by authorities.

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The ubiquity of the Google and Facebook platforms and the lack of transparency of the operation of these platforms, have had adverse effects on news publishers and their opportunities to monetise their content”.

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This is relevant given Google’s experience in Canada in the landmark Google v. Equustek case. In that case . . . Google was required by the British Columbia Supreme Court to de-index search results for a competitor of Equustek (a Canadian company manufacturing internet routers) found to have stolen Equustek’s intellectual property in order to market online clones of Equustek’s products. Google agreed to de-index results for its Canadian site, Google.ca, but refused a blanket delisting on Google.com and its other national sites as ordered by the court, and appealed. The BC Court of Appeal upheld the global de-indexing order. Google then appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada and lost. It then resorted to a series of legal actions in the US designed to invalidate the order and then have it varied in Canada pursuant to a California court order. These tactics failed (although Google was able to get an unopposed order in California that the Canadian Supreme Court order could not be enforced in the US), but they demonstrate the lengths that Google will go to in order to retain its ability to do what it wants in the way that it wants.

Link to the rest at Hugh Stephens Blog