Google's new plan to alter its search engine so that legitimate entertainment sites are ranked higher than pirate sites is refueling debate in Washington debate over what to do about websites that infringe on copyright.
The plan is aimed at appeasing the entertainment industry, which has often accused Google of facilitating piracy. While media companies, artists and publishers would like Google to just remove infringing websites and pages, Google has resisted, arguing that determining copyright infringement is a matter only the courts can resolve. The online piracy issue has been a hot potato in Washington since January, when the Internet community halted the Stop Online Piracy Act.
Starting next week, Google searches will employ a new algorithm that will rank websites based on the number of valid copyright removal notices they receive.
"This ranking change should help users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily, whether it's a song previewed on NPR's music website, a TV show on Hulu or new music streamed from Spotify," wrote Amit Singhal, Google's svp of engineering, in a blog post.
The Motion Picture Association of America, one of the leading advocates for stricter online copyright enforcement laws, is "optimistic" about Google's plan to steer consumers to legitimate sites and away from rogue cyber lockers, peer-to-peer sites and other sites that steal content.
"We will be watching this development closely. The devil is always in the details, and we look forward to Google taking further steps to ensure that its services favor legitimate businesses and creators, not thieves," Michael O'Leary, the MPAA's senior executive vp for global policy and external affairs, told Adweek.
But while the Google's new approach may appease the entertainment industry, others aren't convinced it's such a good idea.
"We worry about the false positives problem," Julie Samuels and Mitch Stoltz of the Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote in a blog post. "We've seen the government wrongly target sites that actually have a right to post the allegedly infringing material in question or otherwise legally display content.
"Takedown requests are nothing more than accusations of copyright infringement," they continued. "Demoting search results, effectively telling the searcher that these are not the websites you're looking for, based on accusations alone, gives copyright owners one more bit of control over what we see, hear and read."
Some question Google's motive, especially as the company strives to be a media company in its own right. "It may make good business sense for Google to take extraordinary steps, far beyond what the law requires, to help the media companies it partners with. That said, its plan to penalize sites that receive [takedown] notices raises many questions," John Bergmayer, senior staff attorney for Public Knowledge wrote in a blog post.