Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Google Now Using DMCA Takedown Notices To Affect Search Ranking

Google recently announced that it will begin using the number of DMCA takedown notices that a site receives. "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," said Amit Singhal, Google SVP of engineering. "Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results."
Google to adjust search rankings based on alleged copyright infringement
This news is both exciting and unsettling at the same time. First, it just makes sense that if a particular site has a problem with copyright infringement, I mean a real, actual problem with copyright infringement, then I believe those sites should be demoted in the Google search results. It only makes sense that decent, honest people should be promoted more than dishonest people doing something improper. Too easy. the problem comes from the fact that it is too easy to send bogus DMCA takedown notices with impunity.
Consider for example the folks over at Shakedown Takedown Piracy. That group issues more DMCA takedown notices than pretty much any other entity on the planet, and it looks like it's pretty much a one-man shop doing so. By my estimate, this one guy issues about one takedown notice every couple of seconds. So if that is true, then there is absolutely no way every one (if any) of those notices is being vetted for accuracy. So here we have a situation where the number one generator of DMCA takedown notices could influence the Google search results for countless sites without ever having done any due-diligence or evaluating the accuracy of those notices. That concerns me. That concerns me a lot.
So as I see it, we have a potentially good thing in that people who are, in fact, conducting themselves improperly by violating others' copyrights could be punished in a way that seems proportional--make their sites harder to find. However, unless we enact some serious repercussions for baseless DMCA takedown claims, we run the risk of serious abuse. A company could try to impact the search ranking of its competitors by launching a baseless DMCA takedown notice campaign. The last thing that any company needs is some guy at home in his underwear sending out a new DMCA takedown notice every two seconds just to negatively impact your search ranking. Are we in danger of creating a new cottage extortion industry?