Google could be protected from UK copyright liability

Search engines, such as Google, could become exempt from possible copyright infringement under amendments tabled to the Digital Economy Bill by Conservative peer Lord Lucas.

Lord Lucas has proposed a specific change to the bill saying publishers of websites, including those owned and run by newspaper companies, should be presumed to give open access to search engines – unless they otherwise implement technology to block those sites indexing for listings.

His amendment, called Protection of search engines from liability for copyright infringement, states: “Every provider of a publicly accessible website shall be presumed to give a standing and non-exclusive license to providers of search engine services to make a copy of some or all of the content of that website, for the purpose only of providing said search engine services …

“A provider of search engine services who acts in accordance with this section shall not be liable for any breach of copyright…”

If such an amendment was passed into law it could make impossible for a newspaper website, that had not already blocked a search engine through the use of Robot.txt files, to take legal action against it for indexing its content.

Last year, Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corporation – owners of papers including the Times and The Sun – indicated that he could use legal methods to prevent search engine from taking his newspapers’ material.

Murdoch told Sky News Australia in November that a number of websites, including Google, Microsoft and “steal our stories without payment”.

However, what constitutes a “publicly accessible website” could be open for debate once News Corp implements its plan to introduce paid-for access across its newspaper websites later in the year.

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