It's something of a breakthrough for the record industry: Google has agreed to punish sites proven to infringe copyright by pushing down their rankings in its search results.
Although the search giant stops short at agreeing to delist piracy sites completely, it has committed to altering its algorithm to reflect the amount of copyright removal notices it receives. It won't go short of them: during May, the BPI requested over 160,000 URL takedowns.
The changes will come into effect next week, and promise to elevate the likes of iTunes and Spotify above torrent sites in search results. After years of battling with the record industry, is Google coming good on its anti-piracy promise?
Amit Singhal, SVP, Engineering, explained: "We aim to provide a great experience for our users and have developed over 200 signals to ensure our search algorithms deliver the best possible results. Starting next week, we will begin taking into account a new signal in our rankings: the number of valid copyright removal noticed we receive for any given site.
"Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results. This ranking change should help users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily... including [for example] music streamed from Spotify."
He continued: "Since we re-booted our copyright removals over two years ago, we’ve been given much more data by copyright owners about infringing content online. In fact, we’re now receiving and processing more copyright removal notices every day than we did in all of 2009 - more than 4.3m URLs in the last 30 days alone.
"We will now be using this data as a signal in our search rankings. ??Only copyright holders know if something is authorized, and only courts can decide if a copyright has been infringed; Google cannot determine whether a particular webpage does or does not violate copyright law.
"So while this new signal will influence the ranking of some search results, we won’t be removing any pages from search results unless we receive a valid copyright removal notice from the rights owner. And we’ll continue to provide 'counter-notice' tools so that those who believe their content has been wrongly removed can get it reinstated. We’ll also continue to be transpaent about copyright removals.??"
The news has already been greeted with celebration by the movie industry. Michael O’Leary of the Motion Picture Association of America said in a statement:
"We are optimistic that Google’s actions will help steer consumers to the myriad legitimate ways for them to access movies and TV shows online, and away from the rogue cyberlockers, peer-to-peer sites, and other outlaw enterprises that steal the hard work of creators across the globe. 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."