From next week, websites with copyrights-infringing content will rank lower in page-ranking

Google has made some subtle changes to the ‘secret sauce’ that makes its web search relevant to all.

From next week, websites that have received a substantial number of copyrights infringement notices will rank considerably lower than those that feature legitimate content.

In an August 10 post on the ‘Inside Search Blog’, Google’s senior vice-president for engineering Amit Singhal has written: “We aim to provide a great experience for our users and have developed over 200 signals to ensure [that] 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 notices we receive for any given site. Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results.”

Google has been tweaking its copyrights systems over the past two years. Of late, it has been most visible on the video-sharing website YouTube, where every video is tagged with information, explaining whether or not it features contents for which copyrights have been claimed by rightful owners.

Mr. Singhal says that the copyrights notification seems to have come of age. “We’re now receiving and processing more copyright removal notices everyday than we did in all of 2009 — more than 4.3 million URLs in the last 30 days alone. We will now be using this data as a signal in our search rankings.”

Taking into consideration copyrights violation as a page-rank criterion does throw up a challenge. How does Google determine whether or not any particular website is using copyrighted material under some licence or in a more likely real-world scenario whether the website and the copyrights claimants are under any legal dispute?

Mr. Singhal explains: “Only copyright-holders know if something is authorised, 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 transparent about copyright removals.”

An analysis of the Google Transparency Report — available at removals/copyright/ — shows that at this moment, the top sites being reported for copyrights infringements are peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing websites, and the top reporting organisations are the ones run by Hollywood studios and international music labels.