As previously reported, Google announced that it will implement a new ranking signal into its search algorithm next week. The search engine will start taking the number of “valid” copyright removal notices it receives for a site, into account when ranking content.
Are you concerned about this new addition? Let us know in the comments.
Almost as soon as the Blogosphere was able to react to the news, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) put out its own post about it. Julie Samuels and Mitch Stoltz with the EFF write, “Earlier this summer, we applauded Google for releasing detailed stats about content removal requests from copyright holders. Now that we know how they are going to use that data, we are less enthusiastic.”
The two go on to express concerns with how “opaque” Google is being about the process, despite Google’s claim that it will “continue to be transparent about copyright removals.”
The EFF’s concerns are the vagueness of what Google considers to be a high number of removal notices, how Google plans to make its determinations, and how “there will be no process of recourse for sites who have been demoted.”
Google does say that it will “continue to provide ‘counter-notice‘ tools so that those who believe their content has been wrongly removed can get it reinstated.”
“In particular, we worry about the false positives problem,” says the EFF. “For example, 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. In short, without details on how Google’s process works, we have no reason to believe they won’t make similar, over-inclusive mistakes, dropping lawful, relevant speech lower in its search results without recourse for the speakers.”
“Takedown requests are nothing more than accusations of copyright infringement,” the EFF addds. “No court or other umpire confirms that the accusations are valid (although copyright owners can be liable for bad-faith accusations). 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.”
The EFF concludes by saying that Google’s “opaque policies” threaten lawful sites and undermine confidence in search results.
The EFF is not the only group to quickly speak out about the announcement. Public Knowledge, a consumer rights group, also put out a much longer response.
We also received the following statement from Public Knowledge Senior Staff Attorney, John Bergmayer:
“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 DMCA notices raises many questions.
“Sites may not know about, or have the ability to easily challenge, notices sent to Google. And Google has set up a system that may be abused by bad faith actors who want to suppress their rivals and competitors. Sites that host a lot of content, or are very popular, may receive a disproportionate number of notices (which are mere accusations of infringement) without being disproportionately infringing. And user-generated content sites could be harmed by this change, even though the DMCA was structured to protect them.
“Google needs to make sure this change does not harm Internet users or the Internet ecosystem.”
It’s going to be quite interesting to see how Google’s new policy/signal holds up to abuse, and whether or not we see fair use significantly jeopardized.