Google caused a lot of discussion last week when they announced that they were introducing a new ranking signal into their search algorithm. The new signal directly targets sites that receive a lot of DMCA takedown notices and downgrades them in search results. It’s assumed that the move will have an effect on the visibility of sites like The Pirate Bay.
What’s funny is that people can still find content from torrent sites as long as they search for relevant terms. It’s true that typing in “The Avengers download” no longer returns links to The Pirate Bay or other torrent sites. Typing in “The Avengers torrent” brings them all back to the front page.
The Pirate Bay addressed Google lowering their search rankings in a blog post. They say that a “very low amount” of their traffic actually comes from Google and that’s only a good thing. They see themselves as a search engine and Google’s move was a way to get rid of the competition. They expect people to search for content directly on The Pirate Bay when nothing shows up on Google.
They do, however, have one concern about Google’s new policy:
The thing we don’t like with this is that a corrupt industry is deciding what another industry has to do. They’re dictating terms. It’s really ironic: an industry that makes funny movies about dictators, where the dictator is essentially calling the USA a dictatorship, is trying to dictate terms where they have no place to do so….
isoHunt’s Gary Fung takes it a bit further and says that Google’s new ranking signal is an antitrust violation. He points out that YouTube is not on Google’s list of DMCA takedown notices. Google will say that’s because they have their own internal reporting system within YouTube, but isoHunt says it’s all protecting Google’s own interests in search. He reiterates the idea from The Pirate Bay that isoHunt is a search engine that’s competing with Google.
Fung is also concerned over the use of “valid” DMCA takedown notices. He says that Google processes a DMCA takedown notice as valid if it hasn’t been countered. isoHunt receives too many DMCA takedown notices a day for them to counter and so they get counted as signals for Google to downgrade their ranking.
The harm here according to Fung is that a lot of legitimate content on isoHunt gets flagged with DMCA notices by overzealous copyright trolls. The mountains of legitimate content on torrent sites will be removed from Google search results. He equates it to censorship. In response, he says that “we need a protest against Google censorship and antitrust.”
Google has definitely ruffled some feathers with their newest search ranking signal, but it was to be expected sooner or later. The company must now ensure that legitimate content is not downgraded. They must also make search fair for everybody including themselves. Making YouTube and other Google services immune to their own algorithm may raise some antitrust flags in the future.