Starting this week, Google may begin lowering the rank of Web sites appearing in its search results when the sites appear to be violating copyright laws.
The company will base the results partly on the number of copyright takedown notices sites have filed against them, wrote Amit Singhal, senior vice president of engineering, in a blog. The company has been receiving a growing number of copyright takedown notices in recent years, he wrote, receiving and processing more than 4.3 million URLs in about the past 30 days, for example.
The announcement was praised by groups heavily affected by Internet copyright violations, including the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). “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,” said Michael O’Leary, an MPAA senior vice president, in a statement. “And away from the rogue cyberlockers, peer-to-peer sites, and other outlaw enterprises that steal the hard work of creators across the globe.”
But at least a few groups said the move could hinder Internet freedom and damage legitimate businesses. “It may make good business sense for Google to take extraordinary steps…to help the media companies it partners with,” said John Bergmayer, a senior staff attorney with Public Knowledge. But “[s]ites may not know about, or have the ability to easily challenge, notices sent to Google. And Google has set up a system that may be abused by bad faith actors who want to suppress their rivals and competitors.”
Google said it would only remove links to sites that it considered to have “valid” claims filed against them. It also said it would continue to provide “counter-notice” tools so that those who felt their content was wrongly removed can get it reinstated, and it would continue to be transparent about copyright removals.