Voluntary Efforts Can Be Less Transparent Than Laws in the Books

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2012-08-14 Print this article Print

Andrew McDiarmid, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Democracy & Technology, an Internet rights group, said the Google algorithm change to better protect copyright holders is a voluntary effort that can be preferable to mandatory new laws which can be overbearing.

"To the extent that it steers users to licensed music and films online, I think it will help copyright holders," said McDiarmid. "We don't know yet."

One concern to watch, he said, is that while voluntary private efforts like this one can be effective, they can also be less transparent than laws in the books.

"Google needs to be clear about what it's doing and needs to provide ways for site owners who feel they've been wrongly affected," said McDiarmid.

Dave Schubmehl, a search analyst with IDC, said he sees the algorithm change as a positive for content owners.

"It certainly looks like this is going to help in that it's going to change the rankings so that the legitimate copyright owner's information will bubble to the top," said Schubmehl.  "That's going to help to be effective against people who are out there stealing content."

The main reason that such sites steal content in the first place, he said, is so they can attract readers with great content and then can conversely increase their search rankings. "It's going to help ameliorate that problem."

At the same time, it won't solve everything, said Schubmehl. "It's probably not as strong as the copyright owners would like to have, but the reality of the situation is that Google can't go around policing all of this without the courts and the help of  all the parties involved. It appears that Google is trying to do its part."

Google's new algorithm change can't actually tell if a particular Web page does or does not violate copyright law. It can only take infringement reports from copyright holders and use them as a factor in the rankings. Only a court can actually decide if a copyright has been infringed. Because of this, Google won't remove any pages from the results of the search query unless they receive a valid copyright removal order from the affected party, according to the company.

"Counter-notice" tools will also continue to be provided to help people who believe that their content has been wrongly removed, wrote Google's Singhal. Those owners can get such materials reinstated through that process, if warranted.  Singhal said that Google will "continue to be transparent about copyright removals."


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