Google to be grilled on piracy

Google's antipiracy efforts are likely to come under scrutiny during a US congressional hearing scheduled next week in Washington.

Google's antipiracy efforts are likely to come under scrutiny during a US congressional hearing scheduled next week in Washington.

Google will testify on "rogue" websites at a House hearing 6 April. Senator Patrick Leahy is spearheading antipiracy efforts in Congress.

Senator Patrick Leahy

Senator Patrick Leahy is spearheading antipiracy efforts in Congress.(Credit: Greg Sandoval/CNET)

Google has accepted an invitation to appear on 6 April before a US House subcommittee investigating websites accused of distributing pirated intellectual property, sources with knowledge of the witness list told ZDNet Australia sister site CNET.

Should Google testify as expected, it is believed to be one of the first occasions the search company has been questioned publicly about whether it plays any role in internet piracy.

Trade associations representing the film, music, software and video game industries say "rogue" sites violate copyright law and profit from their work without compensating owners. Many of them have accused Google for years of helping to fund copyright infringement by enabling site operators to post Google ads on their sites.

Google did not respond to an interview request.

Kent Walker, Google's general counsel, is expected to appear at the hearing on the company's behalf. He should be prepared for a grilling; if members of the subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet are anything like the Senate committee conducting a similar review, they will be tough on Google.

Prominent members from both major political parties appear more determined than ever to stamp out intellectual property theft. Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is preparing to reintroduce legislation that would hand the government sweeping powers to take down alleged pirate sites and try to cut off their revenue sources. Leahy tried to get a similar Bill passed last year but it was held up by Senator Ron Wyden.

At a Senate hearing last month, lawmakers made a point of criticising Google for not showing up to the hearing and not doing enough to fight piracy. One Senator threatened to subpoena Google managers if they didn't voluntarily appear at future hearings.

At the House hearing next week, Google will likely note that in December it announced its intention to start booting alleged copyright violators off AdSense, the company's successful advertising program. Google said it would try to block terms associated with piracy from appearing in the search engine's Autocomplete function. The company has provided software tools to copyright owners to identify infringing content, and in some cases it has offered this service free of charge.

Committee members may hear that Google has many partnerships with content creators, and has licensed feature films, TV shows and music for YouTube. It has created software filters that can pull down content and keep it off the video-sharing site. But some entertainment companies say privately that Google hasn't made good on all its promises.

This will be the subcommittee's second hearing on the piracy issue this year. A new antipiracy Bill is expected to be introduced in the House later in the year.

John Morton, director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is one of the witnesses expected to testify before the subcommittee.