Google announced on Friday that starting this week, it would begin using the number of “valid” copyright removal notices it gets for a site as a ranking signal. This immediately rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.
In fact, various groups were quick to speak out about Google’s new policy. The EFF, for example, called the policy “opaque,” and expressed its concerns about how Google will make its determinations, and about the road to recourse (or lack thereof) that sites will have.
“Sites may not know about, or have the ability to easily challenge, notices sent to Google,” said Public Knowledge Senior Staff Attorney, John Bergmayer. “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.”
Other have questioned how Google will deal with these notices with regards to its own properties – namely, YouTube. YouTube, of course, gets plenty of takedown requests, but they go through a different system (which Danny Sullivan has broken down into great detail). In fact, the takedown request form Google pointed to in its announcement of the feature, specifically mentions YouTube:
“If you have a specific legal issue concerning YouTube, please visit this link for further information. Please do not use this tool to report issues that relate to YouTube.”
Sullivan says Google told him, however, that “notices filed against YouTube through the separate YouTube copyright infringement reporting system will be combined with those filed against YouTube through the Google Search reporting system,” and that Google will treat YouTube like any other site. However, he reports, Google does not expect YouTube to be negatively affected by this, nor does it expect other popular user-generated content sites. Google, he says, told him that it will take into account other factors, besides the number of notices it receives.
Well, this makes sense, because Google was pretty clear in its announcement that it was simply adding this as a signal – as in one of over 200.
“We aim to provide a great experience for our users and have developed over 200 signals to ensure our search algorithms deliver the best possible results,” Google’s Amit Singhal said. “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.”
YouTube and other popular sites likely have enough other signals working in their favor to counter this one signal. It doesn’t sound like Google’s newest signal is necessarily going to be its weightiest.