Google set to demote sites which include pirated material

The news that Google is set to act on sites which include pirated material by relegating them down the search rankings took me somewhat by surprise. My immediate reaction was… how is Google going to ascertain what is pirated content and what is not. And why would Google get involved in this aspect of online activity anyway, it really does not fall within their purview.

So, I spent a couple of hours during today researching the subject further and discovered, not surprisingly, that the entertainment industry is in fact the instigator behind the move. The system revolves around ‘notices’ submitted to Google by entertainment industry representatives pointing to sites which they (the entertainment industry) claim include content in violation of copyright. There are additional stipulations in place too, what Google refers to as ‘signals’, but bearing in mind the serious clout which the entertainment industry is known to exert, perhaps these might be of a secondary nature?

By Google’s own admission, they have no way themselves of identifying material which infringes copyright –  this from Google representative Amit Singhal… “Google cannot determine whether a particular webpage does or does not violate copyright law.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an organization which generally holds diametrically opposing views to the entertainment industry, openly asserts that Google has insufficient information to justify dropping search results down the list.

This quote from the EFF… “Demoting search results – effectively telling the searcher that these are not the websites you’re looking for – based on accusations alone gives copyright owners one more bit of control over what we see, hear, and read.”

A couple of pertinent facts:

  • *4.5 million take-down requests were submitted to Google in the past month alone.
  • *There is no onus of proof on either Google or whoever submits the take-down requests.

In my opinion, this is an instance of Google responding to insatiable big business demands. Besides, demoting websites with alleged pirated content simply won’t work. Problematically, the practice assumes that users are too naive to spot the difference between legitimate and illegal links. It’s my contention that the vast majority of people performing such searches know exactly what they’re looking for. The real issue is not that Google is showing the content to them, it’s that the traditional entertainment industry players are failing to provide users with what they want.

To my way of thinking, managing copyright content should be a matter between copyright holders, site owners, and law enforcement…. nothing at all to do with Google. The entertainment industry has actually made another pretty shrewd move here, using Google as a pawn to help inflict punitive measures on recalcitrant sites… the whole thing smacks of a ‘backdoor’ SOPA.

Another consideration is that the net is a global community and not all countries share identical aspects throughout each set of localized copyright laws.. what is considered to be criminal in one country may be perfectly legal in another. So the question arises as to who decides what is criminal or not, and on what edicts are those decisions based?

What we have with this situation is Google being used to apply the U.S. entertainment industry’s own standards on a global basis irrespective of local laws.

I know there are some who will disagree with my point of view, let us know your thoughts via the comments.

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1 thought on “Google set to demote sites which include pirated material”

  1. If Google are going to do this then they need a very clear, easy and quick appeals process. At the moment this is one thing they are very bad at. If someone objects to the content on a Google website, Google immediately remove that site. There is no contact with the owner to warn them or allow them to respond or remove the offending item (if there is one) – they just suspend the site with no warning. They have no appeals process apart from posting on a forum and hoping someone at Google will take up your case!
    Reducing Google rankings could seriously impact revenues for a business site, so before rankings are reduced, the site should be warned and allowed to respond before it’s ranking is reduced.
    A fairer arrangement would be to show the Google search link results in a different highlighted colour (or with a ‘suspected illegal’ icon) but not change the ranking.
    As you say, if the site does contain illegal content and does not ‘clean up it’s act’ after fair warning, then the owner of the copyright material should take legal steps to take down the site.

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