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Google and Yandex may collaborate on a real-time blacklist of all known pirated works

A meeting on the status of anti-piracy efforts at search engines has produced a collaborative approach to better addressing the issue of pirated works appearing in search results. An international collective of search giants thinking of creating a blacklist of all known pirated works, which will be compared with search results every five minutes and any matches removed.

The meeting, which took place last week, was reported by Russian outlets Vedomosti and RBC; TorrentFreak noted the news soon after. The attendees included Google, Yandex, Mail.ru Group, Gazprom Media, and other local trade associations. The issue at hand: how to return accurate results when someone searches for “download princess bride movie” without also including links to piracy sites.

Yandex in particular has been under threat by regulators for its refusal to take more serious steps to block pirated content — the company argues that it isn’t required by law to do so. The argument is in some ways similar to that of Google, which has resisted pressure to be the first and last line of defense, incurring great cost to protect someone else’s property. But clearly both are open to a more collaborative effort.

The solution proposed by the groups is a shared ledger of links and works known to be pirated. This register would be continually updated and each partner would regularly check it against its index and strike any matches from being displayed in results within six hours.

The list would be curated by the companies themselves and rightsholders who find, as they often do, links to or copies of their copyrighted materials online.

Obviously this isn’t an entirely novel idea: search engines and media companies of course have their own lists and may even share some information, and Russian regulator Roscomnadzor has one that ISPs consult when issuing blocks at their level. But this would be an official, cross-border, cross-industry collaboration, built to minimize both the time and paperwork needed to remove an infringing link.

The difficulties and dangers of such a system are easily imaginable. A mistaken or fraudulent entry could lead to a site being delisted or demoted in search results, and because this system is largely internal to the companies and not part of an official process (like DMCA takedowns, such as they are), the owner of that entry could lack recourse. There’s no shortage of stories of YouTube videos being taken down via fraudulent reports, so the new system would need to be both robust against that threat and responsive to petitions.

There are also plenty of ways that piracy sites can escape the clutches of these systems, which by necessity given the scale of the issue, are largely automated. Futzing with the URL — for instance, generating a new one for every user and deleting them shortly after — could lead to an inflated and inaccurate register. (That’s just one simple way of throwing a wrench in the machinery; piracy sites are technically adept and legally savvy and their methods may be rather more sophisticated.)

And because the list wouldn’t necessarily be backed by law — this would be an understanding between these organizations based on mutual benefit — it might be respected only when convenient. If, for example, one of the companies faces an ugly lawsuit or challenge regarding a listing, it may choose to slacken its enforcement to avoid such complications.

The war between big web properties and piracy is an ongoing one and no one is likely to strike a killing blow given how advanced things are on both sides of the line of battle. But it’s equally unlikely that either side will stop or slow in its efforts to gain the upper hand, if only temporarily.

It’s unclear what stage this effort is at, but Roskomnadzor and the trade associations confirmed to Vedomosti that work is underway, though Yandex would only say that it was involved. I’ve asked Google for comment and will update this story if I hear back.

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