ArtsWatch: Google's Rankings Demote Pirates

Search engine reveals rich-data approach to improve legitimate websites' order in results
August 20, 2012 -- 6:30 am PDT
By Philip Merrill / GRAMMY.com

In recent news ...

On Aug. 10 Google announced changes to its algorithm that will push websites that receive many takedown requests for alleged infringement lower in its search results. The company said, "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." Google's online Transparency Report began publishing takedown information this past May. The move was welcomed by content industry organizations MPAA and RIAA. RIAA Chairman/CEO Cary Sherman said, "There are many more actions that we hope Google will take. But by taking this common sense step and treating copyright in a way that's consistent with the search firm's approach to other forms of activity on the Internet, Google has signaled a new willingness to value the rights of creators." Consumer advocates Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge expressed concern, the latter noting the coincidence that this announcement was made the day comments were due to the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (see below). As noted by Sherman, this demonstrates that Internet service providers can contribute to antipiracy efforts by taking voluntary steps that are consistent with their corporate culture and outlook. More cynical observers voiced suspicions that Google wanted to curry favor with content companies as it moves into digital media distribution as part of its business.

Aug. 10 was the extended deadline to submit suggestions and comments to IPEC Victoria Espinel for consideration in the development of the next phase of the U.S. Joint Strategic Plan on IP Enforcement. In June Espinel reached out to individual content creators and many of their responses are included among the more than 250 submissions at Regulations.gov. Music industry concerns receive special focus in the MPAA/NMPA/RIAA joint submission as well as those from A2IM, Copyright Alliance, Future of Music Coalition, International Intellectual Property Alliance, and SESAC/ASCAP. Other notable comments representing the interests of IP owners include the joint submission by DGA/IATSE/SAG-AFTRA and separate comments by the International Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Consumer advocates Center for Democracy and Technology, EFF and PK warned that enforcement must not be allowed to harm users' rights or the Internet, concerns mirrored in a submission by 16 Members of European Parliament. Technology sector comments included CCIA/NetCoalition, Consumer Electronics Association, the Internet Society, and TechAmerica. In their submission, MPAA, NMPA and RIAA wrote, "The creative industries firmly believe that reducing the availability of infringing content online should be the shared goal of all legitimate businesses that operate online as well as consumers and the U.S. government."

Sept. 26 is the extended deadline for comments on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers' many applications for new generic top-level domain names, such as .music. Several objections from Saudi Arabia that appear to be affiliated with the country's Communications and Information Technology Commission attracted attention for being culturally offbeat from a Western perspective. The comments object to .gay and .wine as prohibited in the public interest and object to .catholic and .shia unless the specific communities as a whole are consulted and given a chance to evaluate the gTLD proposals.

IFPI announced on Aug. 9 that it assisted Interpol in the coordinated operation that shut down torrent-sharing site Demonoid earlier this month. The Ukrainian police force's Division of Economic Crimes seized the website's servers while an investigation into the site's owners was launched by Mexico's attorney general. On Aug. 12 three Demonoid domains were reportedly offered for sale.

On Aug. 14 the proprietor of Surfthechannel.com, a British site that provided links to streaming content, received a four-year sentence for conspiracy to defraud in Newcastle Crown Court. Although his site linked to both pirated and legitimate content, the proprietor's activities were distinguished from legitimate search engines because the site was created to profit from criminal activity and targeted pirated and pre-release content. The site had approximately 400,000 users each day and earned nearly $55,000 per month from advertising. The sentence was harsher than it would have been for online copyright infringement. As observed by Copyright Alliance, a leading 1974 case on the conspiracy to defraud charge "explicitly held that the offense ... includes conspiracy to contravene the UK Copyright Act."

Germany's Federal Court of Justice announced a verdict on Aug. 10 allowing rightsholders to obtain subscriber information from Internet service provider Deutsche Telekom based on copyright infringement that was not on a commercial scale. The decision reversed two lower court rulings.

The Recording Academy actively represents the music community on such issues as intellectual property rights, music piracy, archiving and preservation, and censorship concerns. In pursuing its commitment to addressing these and other issues, The Recording Academy undertakes a variety of national initiatives. ArtsWatch is a key part of an agenda aimed at raising public awareness of and support for the rights of artists. To become more involved, visit Advocacy Action @ GRAMMY.com and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

Click on the "ArtsWatch" tag for links to other GRAMMY News stories in this series.

Email Newsletter