Google’s plans to prioritize legitimate online content

Google announced on Friday it is updating its search algorithms. In making the announcement Google said the purpose is to “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 fromSpotify.” According to the statement, it plans to reduce search rankings for sites with “high numbers” of valid takedown notices.

Google acknowledged it has reliable data from rights holders that signal which sites host or otherwise facilitate widespread infringement. It says “since we re-booted our copyright removals over two years ago, we’ve been given much more data by copyright owners about infringing content online. In fact, we’re now receiving and processing more copyright removal notices every day than we did in all of 2009—more than 4.3 million URLs in the last 30 days alone. We will now be using this data as a signal in our search rankings.”

Google’s announcement did not explain why its other extensive databases about content sources are not also being used to signal sites with predominately infringing content. For example, YouTube’s content identification and management tools (ContentID) are used by YouTube and over 3,000 partners including every major US music publisher, record label, network broadcaster, and movie studio to manage the uploading and licensing of legitimate content. Google admits that “Content ID is very accurate in finding uploads that look similar to reference files that are of sufficient length and quality to generate an effective ID File.” It says “The system is tuned to offer the best possible automated matches while eliminating most false positive matches.” Google Books, another service from Google, that searches the full text of books and magazines that Google has scanned, converted and stored in its digital database, reportedly has over 20 million scanned books.

Google’s move follows significant criticism from rights holders about Google not taking steps to reduce piracy facilitated by its search service. Google’s action is also after court decisions such as the decision of the French Supreme Court in Syndicat national de l’édition phonographique v. Google, which last month ruled that the “Google Suggestions” search term function which automatically suggested the keywords “Megaupload,” “Rapidshare,” and “Torrent” in response to user searches for the name of artists, titles of songs or albums, facilitated infringement. Google’s announcement also follows bad publicity to major brands such as BMW and McDonalds which became associated with infringing websites through online advertising including Google Adsense. (As a result BMW stopped the ads from being served on the particular site in question and initiated a complete audit of it’s digital buying practices.) The change also comes as Google/YouTube expand to distribute more professionally produced content.

Google’s move is one that has been advocated for a long time by the music industry. As pointed out by the RIAA, it is potentially a significant first step in reducing online piracy. The change in policy was also commented on favorably by other rights holders such as the MPAA which indicated it would 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 favor legitimate businesses and creators, not thieves.”

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