Big business and the industry insiders who make movies and manage recording artists are thrilled that Google is taking a major step toward fighting piracy by downgrading questionable sites through tweaks to its search algorithm.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based search giant announced on an official blog Monday, Inside Search, that beginning next week it will start figuring valid copyright removal notices into the complicated algorithm that decides which search results appear highest on a list.
Boosting Legit Content
With searches routinely summoning tens of thousands of results, the change could make the heaviest infringement sites all but invisible to searchers on Google. With an estimated 900 million unique monthly visitors, Google is by far the most popular search engine in the world. Microsoft 's Bing comes in a distant second, recording 165 million, according to eBizMBA.
"Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results," wrote Amit Singhal, senior vice president of engineering for Google search, the company's signature product.
"This ranking change should help users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily--whether it's a song previewed on NPR's music Web site, a TV show on Hulu or new music streamed from Spotify."
Singhal said the copyright notice alerts would be one of more than 200 "signals" that ensure Google's algorithm provides "the best possible results" (although in this case, it does not improve the relevance of the results to the search topic).
He added that the company, which recently upgraded copyright claim detection, has processed claims against more than 4.3 million URL's in just the past 30 days.
The action creates the possibility that rival sites could simply file violation notices in order to push their competitor's results down.
"This is always been a tricky line for Google to walk as to what constitutes a "pirate" site," said analyst Michael Gartenberg of Gartner Research. "Fortunately, there are some clear lines here in many cases and I suspect that's where Google's focus will be. I also suspect it will take more than a grievance against a competitor without investigation for Google to act."
Who's Ripped Off Most?
Google's online Transparency Report listed the top five holders of disputed copyrights of the past month as the Recording Industry Association of America, Froytal Services, Ltd. (an adult content producer), Microsoft Corporation, NBC Universal, and RK Netmedia, Inc. (another porn producer).
In a statement, Cary Sherman , chairman and CEO of the RIAA called Google's modification "an important step in the right direction -- a step we've been urging Google to take for a long time -- and we commend the company for its action."
In a similar statement, Michael O'Leary, senior executive Vice President for Global Policy and External Affairs of the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc. (MPAA) said "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."
O'Leary also called for supplemental action, saying "We will be watching this development closely -- the devil is in the details."