Search engine rankings will be influenced by copyright takedown requests, says Google

Out-Law News | 13 Aug 2012 | 12:02 pm | 2 min. read

The number of valid copyright takedown notices issued to Google will influence where links to websites appear in the internet giant's search engine results, the company has announced.

From this week Google said that the mathematical algorithms it uses to prioritise search results would begin to factor in the volume of copyright notices served to the company about websites' content when displaying those results to users.

"Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results," Amit Singhal, senior vice president of engineering at Google, said in a company blog.  "This ranking change should help users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily."

"Only copyright holders know if something is authorised, 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. So while this new signal will influence the ranking of some search results, we won’t be removing any pages from search results unless we receive a valid copyright removal notice from the rights owner. And we’ll continue to provide 'counter-notice' tools so that those who believe their content has been wrongly removed can get it reinstated. We’ll also continue to be transparent about copyright removals," he said.

The move has been welcomed by representative groups from the creative industries.

"We are 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," Michael O’Leary, senior executive vice president for global policy and external affairs at the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), said in a statement.

"We will be watching this development closely – the devil is always in the details – and look forward to Google taking further steps to ensure that its services favour legitimate businesses and creators, not thieves," he added.

Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the British Recorded Music Industry (BPI), said: "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."

"Consumers overwhelmingly want and expect the top search results for entertainment content to feature legal, licensed services. We will look carefully at how much impact this change will have in practice, but we welcome the announcement from Google and will be pressing other search engines to follow suit," Taylor said, according to a report by the BBC.

The BPI represents recording companies such as Virgin Records, Mercury Records and Warner Music. It is expected to request that more than 12 million files be removed from the internet this year as part of its efforts to combat online copyright infringement, according to a report into intellectual property (IP) crime published last month.

In May Google reported that it was receiving more copyright notice and takedown requests from rights holders in a week than it did during the entirety of 2009. The internet giant said it has experienced a 'rapid' increase in the number of takedown requests and added that it is "not unusual" for it to receive requests to remove more than 250,000 individual web address links from its search rankings in a week.

At the time Google admitted that it does receive bogus takedown requests but said it had removed 97% of links identified as infringing in rights holder requests between July and December last year.

According to the latest figures published by the internet giant, Google has been asked to remove 4,444,757 website addresses from its search rankings in the past month. Requests made by the BPI account for 564,932 of that number.