Saturday 11 August 2012

Piracy : Google's Responsibility? Pt. 2

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the British Phonographic Industry's demands of Google. They requested that the first page of results for a musician or song on the search engine should not include any websites that clearly offer illegal music downloads, regardless of whether such sites are the 'most popular' or not. Google's response at the time seemed fairly clear: they did not support piracy at all, but were not willing to make the changes asked as it undermined the search process (popular sites being ranked higher) and they were not responsible for the visiting habits of their users.

Yesterday, Google seemed to make a u-turn on that decision:

Financial Times: Google acts to reduce pirated content
Gizmodo: Google Lays The Smack Down on Torrent Sites...
Google Inside Search: An Update To Our Search Algorithms

Google plans to make changes to the search results depending on how many valid copyright removal notices they have received for particular sites. Specific pages that are in breach of copyright are already removed from results once Google receive a notice, but the new search algorithm will effect, as a whole, a website's position in their search results.

For example, in the past month, there have been requests to remove almost 4.5 million URLs. The biggest offending domain was, which accounted for almost 300,000 of them (the BPI, incidentally, was the main reporting organisation). Based on this, it would be safe to assume that the next time you Google your favourite artist, will be pushed way down the results in favour of more legitimate websites.

Although generally considered as a good move - particularly by those in the music, gaming, and film industries - there are still some questions and criticisms.

It is theoretically possible that some websites may be unfairly penalised. They may provide a hosting service for video, audio, etc. but have their own strict policies regarding the uploading of copyright-infringing materials. Whilst they may be going through their own battles removing links to illegal downloads from their own users, Google may also be flagging it as a problem-site, and thus lowering their position in the search results. As I touched on in my post about YouTube converters, Google'sYouTube website can often be found to be hosting content that infringes copyright laws. Unofficial uploads of various TV programmes, films, or music videos all cross the same boundaries that Google is trying to take a stance against. Will we see YouTube's position drop in search results? I suspect not...

A cynical surfer might also point out that Google itself is spreading further into media distribution through its TV services, app. store, etc. and so may just be trying to protect its own intellectually property, rather than becoming too worried about everybody else's. Furthermore, there is some worry that the search engine is starting to succumb to pressure from industry and/or government, and thus may no longer be the lauded homepage for quite so many people as a result.

By far the biggest question is whether this will actually play any significant role in reducing piracy. Sadly, I imagine that it probably won't. In the same way that methods of piracy have consistently kept up with changing technologies in digital rights management, it is fair to say that the pirates will quickly find an alternative way to share what they wish. Equally, those people looking for free and illegal downloads will discover new methods to do so.

Good luck Google. Like many, I do not encourage people to download music illegally. However, I also wish to search the web for whatever I want... no matter what it might be.

"Those who dance are considered insane by those who cannot hear the music" - George Carlin

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