Google tweaks algorithms to relegate copyright infringers

Google is to reduce the visibility of websites that attract a high number of copyright removal notices, in an attempt to convince copyright owners of its committment to enforcing intellectual property regulations. But it has stopped short of indicating that it will remove links to offending websites.

In a statement, Amit Singhal, SVP of engineering for Google, said that from this week the company would begin taking into account a new algorithm signal in its search rankings which detects the number of valid copyright removal notices received for a website

He said: "Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results. 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."

Google said it was now receiving more copyright removal notices everyday than it did in the whole of 2009, and in the last 30 days it had received 4.3 million.

But Google said it would not remove links from offending site altogether, and added that it would provide "counter-notice" tools so that those who believe their content has been wrongly removed can get it reinstated.

Singhal added: "Only copyright holders know if something is authorised, and only courts can decide if a copyright has been infringed; Google cannot determine whether a particular webpage does or does not violate copyright law.

"So while this new signal will influence the ranking of some search results, we won’t be removing any pages from search results unless we receive a valid copyright removal notice from the rights owner."

The Publishers Association has welcomed the news, with chief executive Richard Mollet saying: "We welcome Google's decision to demote sites that carry unlawful content, based on notifications sent by copyright owners, and we look forward to working with other search engines to this end.  Consumers want, expect and deserve to be able to access legitimate, licensed content and Google’s announcement is an important step towards helping create an environment in which legal services can flourish."