Last week, Google quietly snuck an algorithm announcement into its Inside Search blog. “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.” Now, DMCA takedown requests will impact a page’s search rank.
Google has long felt the pressure from rights holders to do something about its position as a gateway to obtaining illegal content. This past spring, the Recording Industry Association of America told the search engine it wasn’t doing enough to thwart illegal P2P file sharing, and last year Google Music didn’t receive a warm welcome from the music industry, to say the least. This gives you an idea of how tied to Hollywood this latest alternation is, SearchEngineLand has appropriately dubbed it the Emanual Update in reference to talent agent Ari Emanuel.
At the D Conference earlier this year, Emanuel made his distaste for Google’s ways evident, pointing out that if Google can filter out child pornography it should be able to do the same with stolen content.
Despite mounting pressure from the enterprise, Google has generally defended its position as a road to all things – consumers can use it to find content, and what they choose to do with it is their decision. If we search for Google to find a torrenting site and choose to download content illegally from there and get caught, it’s all on us. But now it appears Google is weakening a bit, compromising to alter its search results – something that inarguably affects users for the worse – in order to appease the powers that be. “We’re now receiving and processing more copyright removal notices every day than we did in all of 2009 – more than 4.3 million URLs in the last 30 days alone,” Google says. “We will not be using this data as a signal in our search rankings.”
So why is Google suddenly caving? Well, for starters, Google is hardly a search company anymore, and its interests lie elsewhere. It desperately wants to be part of the content distribution scene, what with its piling investments in YouTube and its Music service. And while it’s certainly part of new media, it still needs the old industry to help it get its legs – and they’re going to have no part of it until they get their way when it comes to punishing illegal downloading sites.
There are a number of things to be concerned about in regards to the Emanuel Update, the most pressing of which only concern the top violators. You can get a sense of who’s going to get hit just by taking a look at these takedown requests – where you can also see who’s making those requests. All of these sites, which includes The Pirate Bay, are going to see their search rank sink immediately, and it’s probably only going to get worse.
The other concern is false reports of copyrighted material. Google doesn’t have the authority to determine if something is illegal content or not, it will simply be counting how many times others are reporting that it is. So a new, relatively simple way to bury a site will be to issue a bunch of DMCA takedown requests from different domains. It seems silly, but somebody out there will do it at some point. If your site is falsely accused, you’ll bounce back up once this becomes clear, but climbing out of a Google Page rank punishment is easier said than done (trust us – Panda was a virtual life-ruiner over here at Digital Trends for reasons unbeknownst to us).
And the last, but possibly most worrisome, thing about all this is that Google’s priorities seem to be shifting. Punishing pages based on DMCA takedown requests does nothing for users; it’s always been Google’s objective to give out information and what we do with it is our responsibility. But this change takes choice out of the equation to a degree. Any of the benefits of the update (which exist; pirated content often leads to spam and malware and nobody wants that) are marred by the fact that it all stinks of Google playing nice with an industry that is inherently hell-bent on stopping content distribution disruption.
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