August 11, 2012

Google Altering Search Algorithms To Factor In Copyright Infringement Accusations

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Beginning next week, Google's search algorithm will be altered to punish websites which receive multiple valid copyright violation notices from users, the Mountain View, California-based company announced Friday.

According to Cyrus Farivar of Ars Technica, the policy revision will result in those pages which receive higher rates of removal requests to see their standing in the search-engine results decrease.

Farivar notes that the move is apparently a tip of the cap to organizations like the MPAA and the RIAA, while Google has said that the algorithm changes should help users locate "legitimate, quality sources of content more easily.”

Following the announcement, the RIAA released a statement calling it "potentially significant" and a "step in the right direction," Farivar said. Likewise, in an email sent to Ars Technica, MPAA Senior Executive Vice President for Global Policy Michael O'Leary said that their organization was "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."

"This appears to be among the most significant antipiracy measure Google has ever adopted," CNET writer Greg Sandoval said. "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."

Over the past 30 days, Google reported that they had received copyright removal notices for more than 4.3 million individual URLs, Washington Post reporter Hayley Tsukayama said. That figure represents more than the company had received for all of 2009, and was a factor in the company's decision to factor that data into their search algorithms.

The change does have some digital rights activists concerned, however. A blog post from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) "expressed concern that the policy change would let rights-holders dictate search results," Chloe Albanesius of PC Mag explained. The group also raised questions over exactly what Google considered to be a "high number" of copyright requests, and that they were worried about valid websites being punished as a result of "false positives."

"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," added John Bergmayer, senior staff attorney with the advocacy group Public Knowledge, according to Sandoval. "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."