Google’s search engine becomes new antipiracy weapon

Google search will be less welcoming to sites accused by copyright owners of piracy.

On the company’s blog, Google outlined a new measure designed at penalizing sites that generate too many complaints from copyright owners.

“We will begin taking into account a new signal in our rankings: the number of valid copyright removal notices we receive for any given site,” Google said in the blog post. “Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results.”

This appears to be among the most significant antipiracy measure Google has ever adopted. The company’s powerful search engine is the route through which most people on the planet conduct Internet searches. For the past two years, Google has made more and more concessions to copyright owners, who have long demanded that Google take steps to prevent its search engine from aiding copyright infringement.

One of their biggest requests was for accused pirate sites to be blocked from showing up in search results. Copyright owners didn’t get that much, but they got something approaching it. What can’t be forgotten is that there are all kinds of sites that index and help steer people to sites that share unauthorized film and music files.

In the blog post, Google suggested that the intent of the change is not for the company to become a copyright cop but to help weed out illegitimate sources of music, movies and other digital media.

This ranking change should help users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily — whether it’s a song previewed on NPR’s music website, a TV show on Hulu or new music streamed from Spotify.

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,” Google continued. “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.

Copyright owners were quick to applaud Google’s plan.

“Today Google has announced a potentially significant change in its search rankings that can make a meaningful difference to creators,” said Cary Sherman, CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America, the trade group for the four top music labels. “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.”

I’ve written this many times but I’ll write it again. For you free-info hardliners, the thing to keep in mind is that Google is in the content distribution business.

RIAA CEO Cary Sherman.

Hollywood sources have told me for years that Google would struggle to get all the content it needed as long as the parent company dragged its feet on antipiracy. If Google Play and YouTube are to become serious competitors in music and movies, they need content and that means Google has to negotiate.

Antipiracy is apparently on the table.

But Public Knowledge, the public-interest group, sees the potential for abuse.

“It may make good business sense for Google to take extraordinary steps, far beyond what the law requires, to help the media companies it partners with,” said John Bergmayer, a senior staff attorney with Public Knowledge. “That said, its plan to penalize sites that receive DMCA notices raises many questions. Sites may not know about, or have the ability to easily challenge, notices sent to Google. And Google has set up a system that may be abused by bad faith actors who want to suppress their rivals and competitors.”

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