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Google: Piracy Shield Has Legal Limits, Anti-Piracy Chief: Think Ethics, Do More

Logo piracy shieldWhile anti-piracy enforcement actions are likely to be at the highest level ever seen, there’s no shortage of sites and services surging to millions of monthly visits before appearing to attract negative attention.

Piracy services slipping through the net may not have actually done so completely unnoticed, however. Finite anti-piracy resources or strategy may play a role in services staying online, and not every platform warrants immediate attention.

That being said, when piracy-focused apps appear on Google Play and somehow manage to grow huge audiences for month, that can be puzzling. Google will take down obviously infringing apps in response to a DMCA takedown notice and since major rightsholders can file those in an instant, it’s difficult to know why popular apps don’t get taken down.

Pirate Streaming Apps on Google Play

As part of its coverage of the new Piracy Shield IPTV blocking system recently deployed in Italy, local tech news outlet DDAY.it recently highlighted pirate streaming apps on Google Play, some with hundreds of thousands of downloads. Those mentioned in the article focus on live football streams, the same priority content Piracy Shield is supposed to wipe out.

While that lofty goal was never likely to be achieved in two weeks, DDAY asked Google why the apps hadn’t been delisted and, from Google’s response, the question seems likely to have mentioned Piracy Shield.

The platform built by AGCOM, Piracy Shield, is used to notify providers who provide access to sites hosting infringing content with orders to disable such access. However, hosting service providers such as the Google Play Store are not subject to these orders.

In any case and regardless of the legislation in question, it is always possible for authorities and users to report apps that allow activities in violation of the law or platform rules as described here. (Response from Google)

As a statement of fact, Google’s response is non-controversial. In contrast, a subsequent comment from AGCOM significantly muddies the waters.

Comply With The Law, But Do More

Google accepts DMCA takedown notices from copyright holders and those authorized to act on their behalf, as the provided link demonstrates. That tends to suggest that takedown notices to remove the apps from Google Play may not have been sent by the relevant rightsholders.

In his response, AGCOM Commissioner Massimiliano Capitano doesn’t address the possibility that an existing anti-piracy option wasn’t used. Instead, he says that others simply need to do more.

In this historical moment we need an alliance for legality, which passes through respect for the rules but also through autonomous initiatives by private entities inspired by ethics and self-regulation. Nobody asks for an ex ante filter, nor to wear blindfolds. (Response from AGCOM Commissioner Capitano)

If “respect for the rules” means compliance with the law, the law says that if Google receives a proper complaint, those apps would have to come down. If “autonomous initiatives” is a reference to private deals that go beyond the strict requirements of the law, Google would still need to know which content to remove and why.

Since only the relevant rightsholders have that information, having them supply it in a takedown notice seems like a clear and efficient option.

Law 93/2023, Article 2, Paragraph 5

After suggesting that Google should ethically remove content without rightsholder involvement, Commissioner Capitano goes on to claim that the new law passed last year does indeed apply to the Play Store, contrary to Google’s earlier statement.

[I] would like to remind you that law 93/2023 following the amendments prepared by the Caivano Decree, paragraph 5 of article 2 expressly provides that search engines and other sites, even if they are not directly involved in accessibility of Pirate sites subject to Agcom investigation, must adopt all technical measures useful to hinder the visibility of illicit content. (AGCOM Commissioner Capitano)

The relevant section of the law (art. 2, para 5), states that network access service providers, search engine operators and information society service providers “involved in any capacity in the accessibility of the website or illegal services” must within 30 minutes, disable DNS resolution of domain names and traffic routing to the notified IP addresses.

Google Can’t Comply With The Above

While AGCOM and Google argue over whether Google Play qualifies under the law, it’s beyond clear that Google’s ability to comply with the above terms in respect of an app is all but impossible.

Any app providing access to pirated streams will do so using IP addresses and DNS servers of which Google Play has no knowledge. Even if it had knowledge, Google Play could do nothing about that; it doesn’t supply internet connectivity and doesn’t control DNS. In the event the app relied on Google DNS, then Google DNS should be served with a blocking order, not Google Play.

Google Play Could Do ‘Something’

The law does provide a catch-all clause that requires platforms, “in any case…to adopt technological measures or the organizational measures necessary to prevent access to content disseminated illegally.”

That could logically mean the removal of an app from Google Play. However, regardless of what action is eventually taken, the targets are first identified by rightsholders and then placed in a list, which is subsequently made available to the service providers to take action. Without that list, no action can be taken because, ethically or not, guesses are no match for facts.

That leads to the conclusion that as well as likely receiving no takedown notices, Google Play has received no lists of targets to take action against under the new law, regardless of whether the law applies to it or not.

Furthermore, the only reason those pirate streaming apps remain useful is purely down to the availability of streams accessible within the app. Since it’s Piracy Shield’s job to render those inaccessible, that might be a good place to start.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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