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Call for illegal site demotion on search engines

image captionThe proposals are to be discussed at a government-led event next month

Illegal content should be forcibly demoted in web searches, a group of UK rights holders has suggested.

The organisations argued that search sites were "overwhelmingly" directing users to illegal content.

The proposal - developed as part of government-organised talks - was made public by critics of the plans following a Freedom of Information request.

The Open Rights Group (ORG) said the report was "dangerous" and "Sopa-like".

Campaigner Peter Bradwell was making reference to the recent protests surrounding the Stop Online Piracy Act in the United States.

"Yet again we're facing dangerous plans to give away power over what we're allowed to see and do online," he said.

"The proposals come from discussions that lack any serious analysis of the problem and boast barely a glimmer of democratic input or accountability."

Freedom of Information

The release of the document followed a round-table session held last year involving representatives from search engines, rights holders and the government.

The report read: "Consumers searching for digital copies of copyright entertainment are directed overwhelmingly to illegal sites and services.

"This causes consumer confusion and significantly impedes the development of licensed digital entertainment markets in the UK."

It said sites like Google and Microsoft's Bing were "significantly" impeding the entertainment industry in the UK.

It went on to suggest various measures search engines could take to encourage the use of legal services, including giving lower rankings to sites that "repeatedly make available unlicensed content in breach of copyright".

It also suggested search engines should stop indexing sites that were subject to court orders.

'Vague proposals'

The ORG's Mr Bradwell told the BBC he had serious concerns about the plans.

"There's nothing there about how licensed or unlicensed or illegal sites are going to be determined. There's nothing in there about independent oversight and due process.

"It's just another example of extremely vague proposals based on fluffy evidence."

Richard Mollett, chief executive of the Publishers Association, told the BBC that the ORG was wrong to compare the plans to the controversial Sopa bill which spurred widespread protests earlier this month.

"Sopa deals with blocking rogue websites," Mr Mollett said.

"Whereas what these proposals are looking to do is work with search engines to demote infringing sites on their rankings.

"What we're saying to Google is that where we have a site where we are constantly sending notices, that information should be used by Google as a sign that site is an infringing site."

The search engines in attendance at last year's round-table - Google, Bing and Yahoo - are said to be putting together their own proposal due to be discussed at a meeting next month.

A spokesperson for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said: "The government is continuing to facilitate discussions between rights holders and search engines on industry proposals for tackling sites that are dedicated to copyright infringement."

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