Time for Rupert Murdoch to mobilise the lobbyists? Search engines would be exempted in UK law from any liability for copyright infringement, under a remarkable amendment (292) proposed to the Digital Economy Bill.
Conservative Lord Lucas is proposing a specific new clause so that...
"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 ...Lucas' amendment, "Protection of search engines from liability for copyright infringement", would rewrite the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
"A provider of search engine services who acts in accordance with this section shall not be liable for any breach of copyright..."
This could throw the cat amongst the pigeons on practices like aggregating MP3 deep links (for which Yahoo has been penalised even in China) - but would have the most profound impact on the ongoing issue of search engines' ability to crawl news publishers articles...
Indeed, it would, for example, give Google legal immunity with which to index News Corp content, settling that thorny topic once and for all. But all would not be lost for publishers who want to retain control. Lucas's amendment does make provision...
The presumption (of having an automatic license) may be rebutted by explicit evidence that such a licence was not granted. Such explicit evidence shall be found only in the form of statements in a machine-readable file to be placed on the website and accessible to providers of search engine services.In other words, Google would be free to copy everything - but a publisher blocking search spiders with a robots.txt file would be taken as withholding that right. An explicit "fair use" provision, which Google often cites against copyright-abuse claims, does not exist in UK law.
The wide-ranging Digital Economy Bill, whose glitziest clauses ask ISPs to warn subscribers accused of illegal downloading before throttling their bandwidth or kicking them offline, is currently going through House Of Lords committee stage.
During its passage, individual representatives are trying to pin their specific interests on to the bill. But there are opportunities for Lucas' amendment to fail. If it fails to win peers' backing, Lucas may yet withdraw it before the Lords decide on a version to pass to House Of Commons MPs, who may themselves remove it if Lucas does not.
It's one of 299 proposed amendments which are being heard in the Lords, with the next such session on Tuesday.