Google has just made a controversial announcement that it will now be factoring the number of "valid" DMCA notices that it receives on a particular website into how it ranks that website in its search results.
The Wall Street Journal reported:
Google's move comes as Google itself is attempting to become a major seller and distributor of professional video and music content through a variety of services, from its YouTube video site to the Google Play online-media store to its pay-TV service in Kansas City, which required deals with cable-channel networks. It is pursuing such initiatives partly in a bid to compete with Apple Inc. and Amazon Inc. among other tech companies that distribute media.
As you might expect, the announcement has been met with controversy. Some observers are accusing Google of censorship, and others are accusing Google of caving into pressure exerted by the powerful recording industry and motion picture industry lobbies.
Those accusations are not exactly baseless, given the fact that Google itself reports that a high percentage of the removal requests each month are received from the recording industry and various media corporations, and certainly those groups are looking for removal results. Moreover, it is clear with Google's purchase of YouTube and its development of Google Play that Google is looking to build a better media platform, and obviously the company is likely to meet less resistance in this space if it is seen as working with these companies rather than against them. Anyone who follows copyright legal developments knows that these lobbies are powerful and aggressive in going after alleged infringers, regardless of their size or financial resources, and it doesn't require much of a leap to imagine how those same lobbies could utilize those resources to cause the "censorship" of such companies on the Internet.
I would argue, however, that Google's new policy may be beneficial to many companies in Silicon Valley who simply do not have the resources to pursue infringers in a court of law but want to do something about the fact that their copyright is being infringed. I've represented many companies in recent years who have fallen into this category, and they are always very frustrated when I explain to them the limitations of a DMCA notice. They always want to more but just can't afford it, and they usually hang up in disbelief that the U.S. system doesn't better protect copyright owners.
Now, I'll be able to suggest to those clients that they file a DMCA notice directly with Google before they throw in the towel on taking action against the infringer. Since what irritates such clients the most is having those infringers competing with them on the Internet, I think most clients will be very pleased with having a new tool in their arsenal against infringers.
So, all in all, while I agree with the concerns voiced by Internet observers and agree that the potential exists for abuse, I am on the whole pleased with this new Google policy development.