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Aussie movie exec says Google “facilitates crime”

By | Published on Tuesday 20 February 2018


An Australian movie industry boss has hit out at Google for “facilitating crime” by failing to play its part in combating online piracy. Graham Burke, co-CEO of and a shareholder in film producer Village Roadshow, added that the web giant is welcome to sue him if they take offence at his “facilitating crime” accusation.

Burke’s comments come as two piracy debates continue in Australia. First, the expansion of Australia’s currently very narrow safe harbour. Second, a recently announced review of the country’s web-block system.

Although the safe harbour in Australian copyright law operates in much the same way as the similar principle in the US and Europe, it currently only protects internet service providers. In America and the European Union a wide range of web operators also enjoy safe harbour protection, so that they can’t be held financially liable for their customers’ copyright infringement. In the EU, of course, efforts are under-way to restrict the safe harbour a little so that user-upload sites like YouTube are no longer protected.

In Australia moves are afoot to expand safe harbour protection to the likes of libraries and educational or cultural institutions. However, under pressure from the copyright industries, web firms like Google will not be included in the expanded Australian safe harbour.

Needless to say, Google is not impressed with that decision. According to Torrentfreak, in a recent submission to ministers the web firm said that the Australian government’s current plan “falls far short of a balanced, pro-innovation environment for Australia. Further, it takes Australia out of step with other digital economies by creating regulatory uncertainty for investment and start-up/entrepreneurial success”.

Google then added that, without safe harbour protection, it and other web firms would have less incentive to work with copyright owners on developing anti-piracy tools. It stated: “If Australian-based service providers are carved out of the new safe harbour regime post-reform, they will operate from a lower incentive to build and test new voluntary tools to combat online piracy, potentially reducing their contributions to innovation in best practices in both Australia and international markets”.

For its part, Village Roadshow urged the government to resist pressure to extend safe harbour to protect the likes of Google, stating in its submission: “It is very unlikely given their size and power that as content owners we would ever sue [Google], but if we don’t have that right then we stand naked. Most importantly if Google do the right thing by Australia on the question of piracy then there will be no issues. However, they are very far from this position and demonstrably are facilitating crime”.

Burke then repeated the “facilitating crime” remark when discussing web-blocking in Australia. Specific new laws were passed in the country to allow copyright owners to request that internet service providers block their customers from accessing piracy platforms. Since those rules went into effect, Village Roadshow has been a key participant in demanding blockades against an assortment of copyright infringing websites, alongside other music and movie companies. The whole web-blocking system in Australia is now being reviewed.

Of course, a key issue with web-blocking is how easy it is to circumvent the blockades, usually via a simple Google search. Burke, like many copyright owners, reckons the web giant should be much more proactive in keeping web-blocked piracy sites – and proxies that help users get around the blockades – out of its search engine.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, he said of Google’s failure to proactively remove piracy sites from its search results, “my view is they are complicit and they are facilitating crime”. And, he added, Google is welcome to sue him if they take issue with that remark.

Unlikely to want to participate in any such messy legal battle, instead the web giant had a spokesperson tell the Herald that the company takes piracy “very seriously”, that it has invested “tens of millions of dollars” to deal with the issue, and that it continues to have “meaningful and earnest conversations with industry about copyright”. Fun times.