First the “Penguin” and “Panda” updates changed search results dramatically, and now there is the “Emanuel” update – a term coined by Search Engine Land, in honor of media agency executive (read: RIAA & MPAA mouth piece), Ari Emanuel. What will the new Google update accomplish? Technically, it will incorporate “copyright takedown requests” as a search factor, which will push file-sharing and BitTorrent sites down in the SERPs. Politically, it will appease the entertainment industry who has been whining about Google’s inaction when it comes to piracy.
How Will Google Be Incorporating The New Anti-Piracy Update?
In a three-paragraph statement, Amit Singhal, SVP, Engineering, posted on the company blog that Google “will begin taking into account a new signal in [their] rankings: the number of valid copyright removal notices we receive for any given site. Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results.” Singhal also explained that since Google “re-booted” their copyright removal procedures, they now have “much more data” and can as such incorporate the information into their algorithm.
What, Exactly, Does Google Mean By The Term “Valid”?
The word that jumps out when reading Google’s new anti-piracy update is “valid” — what do they mean by that? Are they talking about a valid complaint or a valid takedown request? After all, a valid takedown request simply means that all the proper paperwork was completed; but it doesn’t mean that the request is actually sound. Google acquiesces this fact in their announcement:
“Only copyright holders know if something is authorized, and only courts can decide if a copyright has been infringed; Google cannot determine whether a particular webpage does or does not violate copyright law.”
In other words, this update is a potential disaster in the making if the signal threshold is low. For example, what happens if Google receives 2 takedown requests for Flowershop A in week 1; now let’s assume that the two requests were sent in by rivals, Flowershops B and C. Will Flowershop A drop in the rankings until they can afford to hire an attorney to remedy the situation? Take it one step further and assume that the requests were sent in a week before Mother’s Day – the busiest flower day of the year – thus causing Flowershop A to drop in rankings during their most profitable window. Like I said, this update is a potential disaster in the making.
Of course, though, it’s important to point out that it’s never a good idea to compete via fake litigation. First of all, you run the risk of being counter-sued and losing a lot more than your attempt at gaming earned. Judges and juries don’t take kindly to those who use the justice system for personal gain. Moreover, if word of your deception leaks, you lose the trust of customers and therefore perhaps your business.
That being said, even if nobody tried to file a false DMCA takedown request, that doesn’t mean this new update will go off without a hitch. After all, just a few weeks ago, the Curiosity Mars landing was removed based on a faulty DMCA request.
Why An Anti-Piracy Search Update Now?
Google insists the impetus for adding an anti-piracy component to their algorithm is new data. But the street gospel is that Google’s sudden change of heart has more to do with the fact that they’re no longer just a search engine, but instead a content distribution company looking for partners — partners like the Recording industry Association or America and the Motion Picture Association of America.
Super-agent (and the inspiration for Ari Gold), Ari Emanuel, co-CEO of William Morris Endeavor, recently heckled the search-turned-content giant at an industry conference: “I don’t want them to censor results, but they have a bunch of smart guys there that can figure this stuff out….Look, Google can filter and does filter for child pornography. They do that already. So stealing is a bad thing, and child pornography is a bad thing.” Translation: if you want to get into the distribution game, you better start at least feigning disgust with piracy.
Like all Google updates, we won’t learn the true ramifications of this one for another few weeks when the data starts rolling in. At that time, analysts will be able to determine if sites that receive thousands of takedown requests (like filetube.com, isohunt.com and torrenthoud.com) will be the only ones affected, or if savvy competitors will be able to launch weak, but technically valid, search-foiling “DMCA attacks” against foes.