Google Search Algorithm Update Means Better Copyright Protection

The owners of copyrighted content online are getting some new help from Google to protect their content from illegal posting by rogue Websites.

Google is updating its search engine algorithm to help copyright holders better protect their works by ranking Websites lower if they've been reported as infringing on the copyrights of others.

The move comes as part of an evolving method to better protect copyright holders from having their content reused by others who don't pay for it, whether in print, film, audio, images or any other form.

To retune its search algorithm, Google will now begin taking into account a new "signal," or data point, in its search rankings–the number of valid copyright removal notices Google receives for any given site. Those removal notices are filed by copyright holders when they believe that a Website is using their content without permission, a procedure provided under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The new signal joins a list of more than 200 others that are factors used in the ranking of Web pages by Google's search engine to help provide accurate results for users.

The change should help users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily, according to Amit Singhal, Google's senior vice president of engineering.

"Since we re-booted our copyright removals over two years ago, we've been given much more data by copyright owners about infringing content online," Singhal wrote in a company blog post. "In fact, we're now receiving and processing more copyright-removal notices every day than we did in all of 2009-more than 4.3 million URLs in the last 30 days alone. We will now be using this data as a signal in our search rankings."

For copyright holders, the move by Google is a good one that should continue the slow progress being made in the area of copyright-protection online, say experts.

"This is something that content owners are going to be happy about," said Anderson Duff, a copyright and patent attorney with Wolf Greenfield & Sacks. "Whether or not this is a big step remains to be seen."

What the algorithm change does do, though, is penalizes Websites that are already illegally infringing on copyrighted content by pushing them lower in Google's rankings so they are not profitable.

"It's going to make companies that are built on the idea of infringing on third-party content more difficult to find in searches," said Duff. "The problem is that there are lots of Websites out there whose whole business model is to include infringing content. If they are then being penalized in their search engine results because of that, it can really be damaging for a Website. "

Websites that infringe on the content of others receive copyright removal notices all the time and usually remove the infringing content within a reasonable amount of time to avoid legal problems, said Duff. But it often doesn't end there, as the sites simply post new infringing content and keep it posted until someone else files a removal notice.

"It's a giant game of Whac-a-Mole," said Duff.