Google Fighting Piracy With Search Result Demoting

Amit Singhal, Google's SVP of Engineering, said that starting this week, the company will implement an update in the search algorithms that will place sites related to piracy lower on the list -- a demoting, so to speak. The ranking will be based on the number of valid copyright removal notices Google receives for any given website, and should help Web surfers find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily, pushing Spotify, Hulu and others to the top.

For years copyright owners have demanded that Google completely block websites linked to pirated material from showing up in search results. Google typically blocks links to the actual illegal content, not the websites themselves. The new change reflects its current stance, pushing violators down the search results ladder rather than nuking the links entirely.

"Since we re-booted our copyright removals over two years ago, we’ve been given much more data by copyright owners about infringing content online," Singhal said in a blog on Friday. "In fact, we’re now receiving and processing more copyright removal notices every day than we did in all of 2009—more than 4.3 million URLs in the last 30 days alone. We will now be using this data as a signal in our search rankings."

Google doesn't determine whether a website has infringed on copyrights -- that's left up to copyright holders and the legal system. That said, Google won't remove any pages from search results unless the company receives a valid copyright removal notice from the rights owner.

"And we’ll continue to provide 'counter-notice' tools so that those who believe their content has been wrongly removed can get it reinstated," he added. "We’ll also continue to be transparent about copyright removals."

Naturally Cary Sherman, CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America, applauds what's believed to be Google's most significant anti-piracy measure yet.

"Today Google has announced a potentially significant change in its search rankings that can make a meaningful difference to creators," Sherman said in a news release. "This change is an important step in the right direction -- a step we've been urging Google to take for a long time -- and we commend the company for its action."

Michael O’Leary of the Motion Picture Association of America doesn't seem quite so enthusiastic, but remains positive with the efforts nonetheless.

"We are optimistic that Google’s actions will help steer consumers to the myriad legitimate ways for them to access movies and TV shows online, and away from the rogue cyberlockers, peer-to-peer sites, and other outlaw enterprises that steal the hard work of creators across the globe," he said in a brief press release (pdf) "We will be watching this development closely -- the devil is always in the details -- and look forward to Google taking further steps to ensure that its services favor legitimate businesses and creators, not thieves."

Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Julie Samuels called Google's process opaque and highlighted a number of unanswered questions such as what constitutes as a high number of removal notices, and how Google determines the ranking based on those numbers.

"Takedown requests are nothing more than accusations of copyright infringement," Samuels said. "No court or other umpire confirms that the accusations are valid (although copyright owners can be liable for bad-faith accusations). Demoting search results – effectively telling the searcher that these are not the websites you’re looking for – based on accusations alone gives copyright owners one more bit of control over what we see, hear, and read."

  • bustapr
    this wont be of much help against piracy. anyone whos serious about pirating music would find a way, even if it takes them a bit longer. or they would just use another search engine.

    I fear this will be of more danger to forums that allow users to easily make topics. Like Ultimate-Guitar. people posts tons of guitar covers there every day. are they gonna block the most used guitar website that uses google adsense and sells apps on google play?
  • bustapr
    *sorry for DP.

    also, I highly doubt they would make it harder to search the holy grail of piracy, Youtube.
  • wiinippongamer
    When people search for piracy they usually do so on specific sites anyways so this won't change anything.
  • Netherscourge
    It should help deter "mainstream pirates" though.

    Hardcore pirates don't even use Google to find their stuff. It's the casual, mainstream people who are generally ignorant and lazy to begin with who will be most affected by semi-filtered Google results.
  • jl0329
    I am sure piracy is coming to an end because of this.

    On the other hand, the advertisement linked words in these articles are ridiculously annoying.
  • The real hilarity is the potential this has for abuse. 'Legitimate' take down notices go out all the time that later turn out to be fraudulent, even one that come from companies like BMG. Look at the controversy surrounding that Megaupload video a year or two back. The record label had zero grounds, but youtube took it down as it was a 'legitimate' takedown notice. and had to put it right back up again when it turned out to not be 'legitimate' at all.
  • Flareside
    I agree with wiini on this. Mostpeople who pirate already have thier group of sites they use and this will not really prevent it from happening. I can see it helping prevent a casual user from starting down that road though.

  • mrmaia
    lol is Youtube included in this demoting?

    And whoever Googles to find pirated stuff will likely put in "torrent", "cracked" or whatever in their searches - which the legit sites don't have and so they won't show up in the top results anyway.
  • rantoc
    Will likely do some good vs the casual pirate but it wont change anything with the "established" pirates, they use other tools than Google.

    This is very general but this is how i see it:
    Scene = Private FTP's
    Normal Pirates = Invite only FTP + Invite only Torrent and in some cases invite only DC and irc channels.
    Casual Pirates = Open known torrent sites and goggling.

    mrmaia: Good point - Google being fair and demote their own Youtube each time they take down a vid from their site, its a corp - Its all about the money and there is the answer!
  • "The ranking will be based on the number of valid copyright removal notices Google receives for any given website"

    Guess Youtube will be at the bottom of the list. They wouldn't give themselves special consideration would they?