Google and the entertainment industry go back and forth over how much of the Web should be downgraded in search results. Google implemented a new ranking signal back in August that downgrades sites based on the number of DMCA notices the site receives. The search engine has also removed The Pirate Bay from autocomplete. All of that is still not enough it seems.
The Guardian reports that the entertainment industry has called on its buddy, the government, to review Google’s efforts to downgrade piracy sites in search results. The same entertainment groups think that Google isn’t doing enough to stop the proliferation of pirated material. The groups point to Google’s search results in the UK still being dominated by sites dedicated to piracy.
To put their claim to the test, I searched for “Maroon 5 free mp3” on Google UK and Google US to see if pirated material shows up. Lo and behold, every result is from a free MP3 site. It’s the same across both territories:
It should be noted that both searches resulted in numerous DMCA takedown requests being listed. Interestingly enough, Google UK has 12 DMCA takedown requests on the front page compared to only nine on the US page. Both search results bring up the same three YouTube videos that contain links to free MP3 downloads in the description.
In a perfect world, a search for free MP3 would bring up links to Spotify or other free streaming services. Of course, using the word “free” in the search result may be what’s causing the pirate links to show up. What if we just searched for “Adele Skyfall MP3?” Surely legitimate sources would show up, right?
As you can see, the only legitimate source to show up is Amazon’s MP3 store. Even then, the link to Amazon doesn’t show up until you’re halfway down the page. The first five results all point to illegal sources including the YouTube video that’s not the official video, but rather a video that points to a free download in the description.
Speaking to The Guardian, a Google spokesperson said that the company “continue[s] to work closely with the industry to protect rights holders and their material.” The spokesperson reiterated that Google’s new ranking signal makes “sites with high number of removal notices” appear lower in the results. The spokesperson also said that Google now takes down “more than seven million infringing links per month.”
The sheer number of DMCA takedowns in Google results shows that Google is indeed removing links at a furious pace. The entertainment industry, however, still insists that it’s not enough. Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the British Phonographic Industry, told The Guardian that Google itself publishes the “most infringing domains” in its transparency reports, yet those sites still show up in search results. He says that the BPI is now in talks with Google to build a “genuine partnership” with the company’s Google Play service to offer legitimate music downloads to consumers.
So what’s going to happen now? The UK government, specifically the UK’s DCMS, may introduce legislation that forces Google to censor search results. The department already gave search engines a voluntary code of practice at the beginning of the year that outlined how search engines should handle infringing links. They’re now putting Google under review for the above complaints, but it might also be because Google has not necessarily followed the “voluntary” code of practice.
The Guardian says that the DCMS will meet with Google, rights holders and ISPs before Christmas to discuss possible agreements and strategies to combat piracy in search results. The DCMS will publish a white paper on creative industry policies in early 2013. The paper may contain the results from its meetings with Google and rights holders.
At this point, I don’t think rights holders will be satisfied until every search result directs users to legitimate results. Doing that would require Google to outright censor its results. I’m sure the entertainment industry would love it, but other groups would cry foul. At this point, all we can do is sit back and watch how it unfolds. If the UK really does implement pro-censorship legislation, you can be sure that the Internet will find its way around it.