Google takes small step against online piracy

Google is changing its search-engine algorithms to push down the search rankings of websites that receive large numbers of copyright-infringement notices.

Google will start demoting the rankings of websites that receive high volumes of "legitimate" copyright-infringement notices.

The company frequently receives notices from content owners regarding websites that they say unlawfully contain copyrighted material. Google even has a web page dedicated to showing how many requests it receives from copyright holders and reporting organisations to remove certain websites from its search engine due to piracy.

"In fact, we're now receiving and processing more copyright-removal notices every day than we did in 2009 — more than 4.3 million URLs in the last 30 days alone," Google's senior vice president of engineering Amit Singhal said in a blog post. "We will be using this data as a signal in our search rankings."

Thanks to a change in Google's search algorithms, certain websites will now appear lower in search results based on the number of copyright-removal notices that Google receives against them.

The company said it will not remove websites from its search results unless it receives "a valid copyright-removal notice from the rights owner".

Between July and December 2011, Google removed 97 per cent of search results specified in those copyright-removal notices.

Google has made it clear that it is not deciding whether websites have indeed infringed copyright, as that is something that should be left up to the courts. It has counter-notice tools in place for website owners who want to appeal a take-down decision.

Earlier this year, Google was one of the many tech companies that rallied against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the US. SOPA would have given US law-enforcement agencies added power to combat online content piracy, but opponents said it would hamper internet freedom.