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Google to factor copyright status into search results

Photo via r.nial bradshaw on Flickr under the Creative Commons License

Google disclosed today that it will begin lowering the search ranking for sites it calculates are likely to offer content that is not legitimately licensed. Copyright status is a tricky thing to determine, so Google is not going to try – instead, the search engine’s algorithms will factor in a site’s number of valid copyright removal notices.

“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,” Amit Singhal, senior vice president, Engineering, wrote on Google’s official search blog.

He added that Google now receives and processes more copyright removal notices every day than it did in all of 2009, affecting more than 4.3 million URLs in the most recent 30 days, partially because it revamped its procedures for reporting a claim if infringing content.

Organizations representing the entertainment industry, like the MPAA and the RIAA, are happy about the algorithm change, since they have been trying for years to have Google block infringing sites from its results. But they’re not quite satisfied. “As Google itself has acknowledged, this is not the only approach, and of course, the details of implementation will matter,” said RIAA chairman and CEO Cary Sherman. “Moreover, there are many more actions that we hope Google will take.”

Google is holding firm on its refusal to remove a site from its search results entirely. As Singhal wrote, “Only copyright holders know if something is authorized, and only courts can decide if a copyright has been infringed; Google cannot determine whether a particular webpage does or does not violate copyright law.”

Even so, organizations that strive to protect online freedoms are critical of Google’s move. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, for example, said the guidelines are too vague, millions of takedown notices later prove to be unfounded, and there is no recourse for site owners who have been demoted.

Related links:

Google’s Inside Search blog – An update to our search algorithms

RIAA – Google Announces Plan To Better Prioritize Licensed Music Online

MPAA – statement [PDF]

Electronic Frontier Foundation – Google’s Opaque New Policy Lets Rightsholders Dictate Search Results

New York Times – Google to Alter Search Results to Reflect a Site’s History of Copyright Infringement

The Verge – Google to begin punishing pirate sites in search results

Politico – Google search to be anti-piracy enforcer

Techdirt – Google Caves To Hollywood Pressure: Will Now Punish Sites That Get Lots Of ‘Valid’ DMCA Notices

Public Knowledge – Google’s New Search Penalty Could Lead to Unintended Consequences