Analysis

Google search changes will ‘visibly affect’ piracy site rankings


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Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 7.21.39 PM (1)How long has the verbal battle between the creative industries and Google over piracy sites and search rankings been running? Too long. But on Friday, there were some interesting new developments coming from Google’s side of the debate.

The company published a new version of its How Google Fights Piracy report, which was first published in 2013 as a defence against accusations that its search engine was fuelling online piracy of music, movies and more.

The report includes information on new ad formats that Google has been using for music and movie-related search queries, pointing them towards legal sources when they include terms like ‘download’, ‘free’ and ‘watch’.

The company has also removed more terms from its autocomplete search feature, based on the hundreds of millions of DMCA removal notices sent to Google by rightsholders.

But the real news is Google’s claim of “an improved DMCA demotion signal in Search” following its long-debated promise in August 2012 to demote sites generating a large number of valid takedown notices.

“We’ve now refined the signal in ways we expect to visibly affect the rankings of some of the most notorious sites. This update will roll out globally starting next week,” explained Google on Friday in a blog post by its senior copyright counsel Katherine Oyama.

It didn’t specify which sites will be affected, although a glance at Google’s own transparency report reveals that the sites attracting the most notices are Rapidgator, FilesTube, Dilandau, 4shared, ZippyShare, GoSong, Uploaded and Torrentz.

As usual in promises of this sort, the devil will be in the detail of how sites are demoted, and what the impact is on their traffic. Rightsholders have accused Google of making promises it won’t keep in the past on this score, but it was notable to see the BPI welcoming the latest announcement, albeit with caution.

“If these new steps help guide more consumers to services like Spotify, Deezer and iTunes, which give back to music, instead of to fraudulent torrent or hosting sites, then they would represent a step forward for artists, labels and all those trying to build a thriving music economy online,” said chief executive Geoff Taylor.

“We will monitor the results carefully, but we are encouraged that Google has recognised the need to take further action and will continue to work with the search engines and Government to build a stronger digital music sector.”

But the BPI would still like more action: similar moves from rivals Bing and Yahoo, for example, as well as for sites ruled illegal by courts to be delisted entirely, and for pirate apps to be removed more quickly from Google’s Android app store.

Stuart Dredge

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