Google receives a lot of URL takedown requests – 4.5 million in the past month alone.
To address this problem, the search giant says it will push “bad” sites (those with allegedly copyright infringing content) further down its ranked search results, with the aim of helping users find quality sources of legal content more easily.
A recent blog post from Amit Singh, Google’s senior vice president of engineering, announced that it will use around 200 signals – an important one being the number of ‘valid copyright removal notices’ – to dictate how their “search algorithms deliver the best possible results.”
Sites with a high number of notices will be pushed to the bottom of the pile, but they will not actually be removed. Counter-notice tools will also be available to pursue reinstatement for those wanting to challenge the decision.
Google’s Transparency Report stats paint a picture of an overwhelming volume of take-down requests coming from copyright owners and reporting agencies, particularly since May.
Last month, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sent nearly 850,000 removal requests, the British Recorded Music Industry just over half a million, while requests from Degban, a copyright protection company, exceeded one million.
The response from the British Recorded Music Industry representative voice, BPI, to Google’s new policy is certainly as expected.
We have argued for some time that sites with a lot of illegal content should feature lower in search rankings, based on the notifications we send to Google... we welcome the announcement from Google and will be pressing other search engines to follow suit.
However, not everyone is happy with Google appeasing the copyright industry with this approach.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is concerned that take-down notices are simply accusations of copyright infringement.
...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.
The EFF also claims that Google has insufficient information to justify dropping search results down the list.
Although the point of the action is to reduce the prominence of ‘dubious’ allegedly pirate websites, sites with legitimate legal content, like YouTube and Flickr, might surely be at risk as well.
Google says because take-down notices are just one of many factors used for ranking search results, legitimate content will remain unaffected.
But it also stresses that the search engine will not create a ‘whitelist’ to exempt certain sites. This means that established sites like YouTube will be treated just like all the others.
TechDirt points out that not only should Google resist responding to insatiable big business demands, it also says that demoting websites with alleged pirated content simply won’t work.
Problematically, this practice assumes that users are too stupid to spot the difference between legitimate and illegal links.
The people doing such searches know exactly what they're looking for. The real problem is not that Google is showing it to them, it's that the traditional entertainment industry players aren't providing users what they want.
I can appreciate the balancing act Google is facing: pressures to do more to address infringement from the copyright industry on one side and the importance of maintaining a trusted service to its user base.
By treating the symptoms of copyright infringement, the worry is that it is ignoring the root cause. Rather than go down this road, perhaps big content providers should think hard about why users illegally download in the first place and respond by delivering content in ways that truly reflect consumer demand.
Google image image courtesy of Shutterstock
9 comments on “Google to demote websites with pirated content”
Having seen my writing pirated I would love to know how you think content providers could better cater to the needs of our audiences. My articles are typically free to read online anyway, and the company does grant permission to reprint, so what's the excuse for sites that illegally scrap our content and slap ads all over it?
Maybe I'm missing the point of the article's conclusion, but it wouldn't bother me any to see sites that didn't pay to create content making less money from stealing it.
I understand both sides of the argument, but no matter how noble the arguments posed by organizations such as EFF sound, they still appear to condone the wrongful acquisition of digital content and those who facilitate the wrongful acquisition of digital content. The bottom line is that a copyright holder has every right to profit from his or her work, and the agents of that copyright holder are bound by contract to protect that content from uncompensated distribution.
What the EFF is protecting is due process. We don't send people to jail for theft without proving before a court of law that they are guilty. The EFF is arguing that this very real punitive action should not happen on accusation, it should happen on conviction. However annoying it often is, the legal system is there for a reason: people are often mistaken, or blinded by their perspective. That's why a neutral arbiter is supposed to be the one to decide guilt. The copyright holders are not neutral because they are protecting their interests, sometimes from legal things. Google is not neutral because they are covering their bums. Neither party should be deciding guilt.
This is particularly important here because copyright holders often issue take-down notices against fair use content. There is a legally defined space for building creative work on the scaffolding of another's copyrighted work. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use).
The EFF is not trying to condone actual piracy, they're trying to protect people who are not pirates but are being accused of piracy. That's the difference between having and not having a legal system.
The article ends with the following statement:
"Rather than go down this road, perhaps big content providers should think hard about why users illegally download in the first place and respond by delivering content in ways that truly reflect consumer demand."
This to me is almost like saying, "If the content providers don't satisfy consumers who are used to getting stuff for free then it's their fault that copyright infringement is happening."
Sorry, but I don't buy that. Obviously content providers should be working hard to improve the effectiveness of their delivery models, and those that most effectively embrace the access-anywhere always-connected Internet for doing so will likely succeed over their counterparts, but the blame for stealing copyrighted material should COMPLETELY and CLEARLY land with the pirates themselves.
Piracy is old-fashioned theft from the creative individuals at the root of the supply chain — individuals that are rarely in a position to develop, monitor or enforce their own delivery mechanisms to the consumers. There may be arguments at every other level, but that much is indisputable.
YouTube must be about to be listed last on Google then as there is more pirated video on that than just about anywhere else 🙂
You cant prevent people from downloading content from alleged copyright infringements sources, they will find a way if that's what they want. These symptomatic solutions has a tendancy of creating more consumer enemies that winning new customers. Dealing with the root cause of the problem will eventually yield much better results by meeting the actual demands of a new world media market.
2008 stats revealed that retail outlet customers steal $14 billion worth of merchandise from North American stores every year. (stats are off the Googlenet via Google – am I a pirate too – – me hearty?)
Piracy is theft – pure an simple. But in the free world, there is a presumption of innocent until proven guilty. However, on Googlenet (come on – the Internet died years ago), there is the presumption of guilt.
Google has gone from being an Internet website address book to floorwalker, police, judge, jury and executioner of alleged piracy. The onus is on the web page owners to prove their innocence – to Google, not a judge.
The Yellow Pages do not police listings. If my laptop is stolen, and I see it the next day in a pawn shop, should I run to the Yellow Pages expecting them to remove or push that shop down or off the listing?
Legal copyright owners have a right to protect their 'intellectual' property (one wonders often times about 'intellectual'), and the sources to do so. But Google should not be one of them.
DISCLAIMER: Google and Yellow Pages are trademark and copyright to the respectful owners and do not endorse, support, or agree with my comments. Sheesh!
"I understand both sides of the argument, but no matter how noble the arguments posed by organizations such as EFF sound, they still appear to condone the wrongful acquisition of digital content and those who facilitate the wrongful acquisition of digital content."
You first say you understand both sides of the argument and then move on to show that you do not understand one side of it. We are not condoning piracy, or the "rongful acquisition of digital content". That is not the goal of these organizations. The point that the EFF and others are fighting over is how copyright law is abused and used for censorship.
I am sorry that people are not getting proper compensation for their work. I refuse to hand over my freedom of speech to protect their work though. Censoring entire groups for the actions of a few is wrong and yet it is happening. Copyright is being abused and has become something it was never intended to be.
Duhhh. Just get a couple of million people to complain about Google linking to pirated content. Then see if they demote themselves in their search results.