We first revealed a cunning plan to persuade search engines to "kitemark" serial pirate music websites back in April. Now the Performing Rights Society, which hatched the idea, has talked about it publicly for the first time. The PRS calls it "traffic lights", and the idea is that search engines flag known and persistent copyright infringement enablers in their results pages.
The idea has won some support, and a sympathetic hearing from Culture Minister Ed Vaizey. Vaizey is keen on self-regulation and would be delighted if the web-blocking clauses in the Digital Economy Act, particularly Clause 17, are quietly forgotten. An industry agreement would allow this to happen. But Vaizey can't understand why Google refuses to even flag infringers, and made pointed criticism of the search giant's representative on Earth (one Sarah Hunter) in closed-door meetings, according to several sources. The more hardcore copyright groups want web-blocking one way or another – it's already on the statute book, remember, but an industry agreement would supersede Clause 17.
"We're not trying to stop people, this isn't a legal action, this isn't site-blocking," PRS chief executive Robert Ashcroft told the BBC. "This is an information to consumers and I think that many people want to do the right thing."
Some don't, and for them, the big red icon will soon mean "Get your free music here". But as Ashcroft puts it, that's not the target audience. The idea is the non-tech majority will think twice about clicking the link if they believe the action has consequences. And the "consequences" part is to be dealt with by measures as yet unknown. In any case, dedicated downloaders of unlicensed material probably don't need a search engine to find it in the first place.
Google has already made minor concessions, by removing pirate sites from its instant search results and search suggestions, as a tactical concession. But it is holding out against content adjudication – that's a step into editorial territory it doesn't want to take. And anti-virus vendors are unlikely to want to move further into censorware territory.
Readers with very long memories may recall El Reg was once blocked by a filtering software company when it didn't like our stories. So you may guess our views on the matter. But Google's critics say that it's making editorial judgments all the time, such as when it decides that websites don't add value. It summarily executed several million .co.cc websites earlier this month on the subjective judgment that it thought a lot of sites there were too spammy.
If that isn't editorial judgment, it's hard to think what is. ®