Last August, Google announced that it would start downgrading sites in its search rankings if they received lots of valid copyright removal notices. Now US music industry body the RIAA says the tech giant hasn’t delivered on its promise.
At the time, Google’s SVP of engineering Amit Singhal said that “sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results”. The announcement was the cue for industry bodies to significantly increase the number of takedown requests they were sending to Google.
The RIAA says it’s been monitoring the results, and it’s not happy. “Six months later, we have found no evidence that Google’s policy has had a demonstrable impact on demoting sites with large amounts of piracy. These sites consistently appear at the top of Google’s search results for popular songs or artists,” it says in a statement.
Specifically, the RIAA claims that the “serial infringers” sites that it analysed “still managed to appear on page 1 of the search results over 98% of the time in the searches conducted – in fact, these sites consistently showed up in 3 to 5 of the top 10 search results.”
The body has published a ‘Report Card’ (here’s the PDF) setting out its findings, with EVP and general counsel Steven Marks criticising Google for the ineffectiveness of any measures that it’s taken.
“We recognize and appreciate that Google has undertaken some positive steps to address links to illegal music on its network,” he says in a statement.
“Unfortunately, our initial analysis concludes that so far Google’s pledge six months ago to demote pirate sites remains unfulfilled. Searches for popular music continue to yield results that emphasize illegal sites at the expense of legitimate services, which are often relegated to later pages. And Google’s auto-complete function continues to lead users to many of those same illicit sites.”
The RIAA is not the first entertainment industry body to criticise Google for a perceived lack of action since the August promise. In December, US film industry body the MPAA also weighed in on the subject.
“There is a staggering amount of copyright infringement taking place every day online and much of it is facilitated by Google, as their own data shows,” wrote the MPAA’s SVP Content Protection, Internet, Marc Miller.
He was responding to a blog post by Google’s legal director Fred Lohmann, which outlined the growth in takedown requests sent to Google from 250k a week in August to 2.5m a week in December – while suggesting that politicians “need to consider the collateral impact copyright regulation has on the flow of information online”.
Meanwhile, in November, Geoff Taylor of British body the BPI also attacked Google for not fulfilling its promise fast enough. “Google said it would stop putting the worst pirate sites at the top of search results. Google’s transparency report shows they know clearly which are most infringing domains. Yet three months into the much-vaunted algorithm change, many of these illegal sites are still dominating search results for music downloads,” he said.
Beggars Group founder Martin Mills also spoke out in a widely-reported speech at Midem earlier this year, giving an independent label’s view: “We do not need illegal services to be made more visible than legal ones. Tech companies should be the partners of rights companies, not their masters,” said Mills.
The new report sets out in detail why the RIAA believes Google’s measures aren’t working. For example:
“Well-known, authorized download sites, such as iTunes, Amazon and eMusic, only appeared in the top ten results for a little more than half of the searches. This means that a site for which Google has received thousands of copyright removal requests was almost 8 times more likely to show up in a search result than an authorized music download site.”
Sites covered in the report include 4shared, Audiko, BeeMP3, Downloads.nl, MP3Chief, MP3Juices, MP3Skull and Zippyshare, among others.
“Despite Google having received notices of hundreds of thousands of claimed infringements on these
sites, including many repeat infringements about the same copyrighted work on those sites, and including continued notices of infringement over the period in question, these sites continue to be ranked on the first page of search results when a user searches for [artist] [track] mp3 or [artist] [track] download,” claims the report.
We’d expect Google to respond in the coming hours – we’re chasing a reply, but it may well come through the company’s official blogs again.