Google To Lower Rankings Of Alleged Piracy Sites
Google will soon bury alleged piracy sites low in the search results, the company announced today.
Specifically, starting next week, Google will take into account the number of legitimate takedown notices it receives when determining sites' rankings, Amit Singhal, senior vice president of engineering, said in a blog post. Singhal says the 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."
The Recording Industry Association of America praised the move as a "step in the right direction." RIAA Chairman and CEO Cary Sherman added that the shift signals "a new willingness to value the rights of creators" on Google's part.
Digital rights advocates aren't as happy. The Electronic Frontier Foundation points out that demoted sites won't be able to challenge Google's decision to drop them in the rankings. "Takedown requests are nothing more than accusations of copyright infringement. No court or other umpire confirms that the accusations are valid," the EFF says in a blog post. "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."
Public Knowledge says the new policy could have a disproportionate impact on sites with user-generated content, because those sites are "more likely to host infringing content than a site for a government agency or a restaurant."
The group adds: "One of the purposes of the (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) was to protect sites that host user content and allow them to operate free of legal uncertainty. Lawful sites shouldn't be penalized simply for their business model."
As a practical matter it doesn't seem likely that Google's move will have a huge influence on piracy. Tech-savvy consumers who want to access videos or music for free will probably find a way to do so regardless of how low the sites appear in the search rankings.