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Google to add SOPA-like anti-piracy filter to search results

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It’s about to get a lot harder to find pirated music, movies, e-books, and software through Google Search.

In a clear effort to appease the Hollywood entertainment gods, Google announced today that it plans to change its algorithm to push websites repeatedly accused of copyright infringement further down its search page ranking.

“Starting next week, we will begin taking into account a new signal in our rankings: the number of valid copyright removal notices we receive for any given site. Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results,” wrote Amit Singhal, Google Senior Vice President of Engineering, on the company blog. “This ranking change should 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.”

The planned algorithm change is one of the most proactive anti-piracy measures ever employed by Google, which repeatedly came under direct fire during the debates surrounding the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) for profiting (through advertising) off of online piracy. While those bills essentially died in mid-January thanks to an outpouring of opposition from Web users, the changes announced today by Google go a long way toward achieving similar censorship effects.

Recording Industry Association of American (RIAA) Chairman and CEO Cary Sherman was quick to praise Google’s actions as a win for the entertainment industry, artists and labels alike.

“Today Google has announced a potentially significant change in its search rankings that can make a meaningful difference to creators: sites that are the subject of large numbers of copyright removal notices may be ranked lower in search results than before,” said Sherman in a statement. “This should result in improved rankings for the licensed music services that pay artists and deliver fans the music they love. This change is 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.”

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) also praised Google’s action, but took a more skeptical tone in its congratulations. 

“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,” said Michael O’Leary, MPAA Senior Executive Vice President for Global Policy and External Affairs, in a statement (pdf). “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.”

Google says it is able to implement this change to its algorithm thanks to the vast number of copyright violation notices, filed under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), that it now receives. Singhal noted that Google has received requests to remove “more than 4.3 million URLs” in the past 30 days alone — more than the Internet giant received in all of 2009.

What do you think of Google’s algorithm change? Was it right, wrong, dumb, or just plain inevitable? We’d love to hear your thoughts below.