Google has signalled it is ready to give in to Big Content's demand for the filtering of search results for website that are alleged to be engaged in copyright infringement, the Mountain View company announced on its official blog.
Under pressure from major movie studios and music labels, Google has gradually ramped up their anti-piracy measure in the past couple of years. It started with the filtering of "piracy related keywords" in their "autocomplete" and "suggested keywords" functions, keywords including "torrent" and "Rapidshare", and an improved DMCA take-down regime, which now removes more than 4 million links from the search index every month.
But this week, Google announced the start of something they've tried to avoid in the past - to alter the search results for website that are seen to be promoting piracy. While Hollywood and the music industry have long called for Google to remove piracy related results from its search index, the search giant's latest measure fall just short of their wishes, with website receiving "too many" DMCA notices to be demoted down the search rankings, but will not be removing results as "only courts can decide if a copyright has been infringed".
Critics will argue that the new regime could be subject to abuses, with less than honourable businesses much more willing filing fraudulent DMCA notifications, now that there is a potential pay-off in having their competitors' websites demoted in the search results, to their advantage. Even Google themselves admit that 57% of DMCA claims submitted are done so by rivals seeking to gain an unfair advantage.
The effectiveness of the demotion will also be under question, with website like The Pirate Bay revealing only 10% of their visitors come from what they call "competing" search engines such as Google. There are also claims of hypocrisy and anti-competitive behaviour as Google's own YouTube will be exempt from this new policy, as it does not use the search engine's DMCA take-down notification system, but rather, a separate system that will ensure the website isn't demoted, despite having more than its fair share of infringing content and take-down requests.
Cynics will question the timing of this announcement, with Google making a play for the video/audio digital distribution market via their recently re-branded Google Play store, and their Google Fiber project. They will also question whether Google is genuine in its promise not to remove entire websites due to excessive DMCA complaints, as this will most likely be the next requests from media owners in their ongoing war against web piracy.
And the MPAA's own statement, while welcoming these new measure, seem to suggest that they will seek further actions from Google in relation to piracy reduction. "We will be watching this development closely - the devil is always in the details - and look forward to Google taking further steps to ensure that its services favor legitimate businesses and creators, not thieves," the MPAA said in a statement.