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While Content Owners Applaud Google’s New Search Algorithm, Others Question the Move
(Photo courtesy of Creative Common’s user Rudy Herman)
Google recently announced a dramatic change to its search algorithm, which will now lower results from sites that receive multiple DMCA takedown notifications. Although Google steadfastly maintains that it is not required by law to take such steps, the move suggests that growing pressure from the content creation industries is having an effect on the policies of the world’s leading search engine.
For years, copyright holders have questioned Google’s role in facilitating online piracy. For example, the Recording Industry Association of America (“RIAA”) has issued a report card on Google’s “progress” in dealing with infringement-related issues. Among other things, the RIAA has taken the search giant to task for its autocomplete feature, where words such as “free” and “download” would appear when users searched for mp3′s by their favorite artists, thereby providing them direct links to a number of sites supporting illegal file sharing. In early March of this year, the RIAA began suggesting a different methodology for the ranking of websites, thereby targeting Google’s search algorithm. Google’s announcement that it will consider DMCA takedown notifications in ranking sites suggests that the RIAA’s efforts have had traction. But not everyone is applauding the move. While fighting piracy is certainly a laudable goal, the alteration of Google’s ‘unbiased’ methodology for ranking websites raises new questions, including where Google will draw the line in terms of responding to third party pressure to lower the rankings of disfavored sites. Will Google respond to the pressure of the Chinese government to lower the rankings of webpages that the government deems seditious? Will Google begin to judge the content of websites normatively, thereby exercising decisions over whose concepts of illegality and impropriety it will follow? For now, we can only wait and see; but, Google’s most recent move—though popular with content holders—has raised just as many concerns as it has alleviated.