Google has decided to play ball with rights holders, according to this Politico report. The world's biggest search engine revealed that it will now make search results from sites with "frequent copyright removal notices" appear lower in Google search rankings. Google announced late Friday that web sites with high numbers of "valid" removal notices would be affected by this new policy.
Google claims it is doing this 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 from Spotify." Of course anyone that has followed bills like SOPA and PIPA knows that manipulating search results is one of the core things rights holders were demanding. Google did promise that it won't block any sites, at least.
"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," wrote Amit Singhal, Google’s senior vice president of engineering. "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."
While the rights holders groups like the RIAA and the MPAA are cautiously optimistic about the new policy public interest groups such as Public Knowledge and the Electronic Frontier Foundation call the plan "ambiguous."
Cary Sherman, the chairman and CEO of the RIAA, was pleased by the news.
"By taking this common-sense step and treating copyright in a way that’s consistent with the search firm’s approach to other forms of activity on the Internet, Google has signaled a new willingness to value the rights of creators," said Sherman.
The MPAA’s senior executive of global policy and external affairs, Michael O’Leary, said that the group 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."
"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 favor legitimate businesses and creators, not thieves," O’Leary added.
But public rights groups were not pleased by the move at all. John Bergmayer, a senior staff attorney at Public Knowledge, told POLITICO that not all copyright notices deemed "valid" are legitimate. Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Julie Samuels also had questions on what the threshold is for a high number of valid notices.
"The thing we’re most worried about is the false positive problem — the fact this could be really overbroad, and encompass sites that might actually be engaging in useful speech," said staff attorney Julie Samuels. She notes that there seems to be "no process, no one you can call, no way you can lodge a complaint to show the algorithm didn’t work."
Google emphasized on Friday that users can file counter notices if they believe their "content has been wrongly removed," so that they can have it returned.
We will have more details on this story as it develops.