Google piracy penalty: YouTube, other user-generated content sites not in danger

Despite reports to the contrary, Google-owned YouTube will not be spared from the Internet giant’s ambiguous anti-piracy filter of search results, Google told Search Engine Land. However, Google does not believe YouTube, nor a number of other “popular,” websites that feature user-generated content, including Flickr, Twitter, Tumblr and others, will be severely affected by the new so-called piracy penalty.

Announced late last week, Google’s new anti-piracy measures will apparently weed out websites that are repeatedly slapped with “valid” copyright infringement claims. Sites that receive a large number of these notices “may appear lower in our results,” said Google in a blog post. This, says Google, will help better direct Web users toward “legitimate, quality” sources for content — i.e. not websites that feature access to pirated content.

While certain sites may be immune to the new page rank signal — or, at least, resilient against its effects — Google says this does not mean they are on some “list” of favorite sites. Rather, Google’s search algorithm will take into account other factors that will likely outweigh the anti-piracy signal.

The ambiguity surrounding the anti-piracy signal has brought it under fire from free speech advocates who fear the piracy penalty gives rights holders too much power to determine Google search results — and thus, the content Web users can readily access.

“In particular, we worry about the false positives problem,” wrote the Electronic Frontier Foundation in a blog post. “For example, we’ve seen the government wrongly target sites that actually have a right to post the allegedly infringing material in question or otherwise legally display content. In short, without details on how Google’s process works, we have no reason to believe they won’t make similar, over-inclusive mistakes, dropping lawful, relevant speech lower in its search results without recourse for the speakers.”

The entertainment industry — specifically, the Motion Picture Association of American (MPAA) and Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) — has praised Google’s new anti-piracy measure, which appears to be the most robust such effort by the company thus far.

The new anti-piracy measures will begin affecting search results sometime this week.