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Google Tackles Internet Piracy – More Questions Than Answers – A SPN Exclusive

If you woke up to drastically different search rankings this morning, you could be a victim of Google’s latest algorithm change. While it doesn’t have a cute, cuddly nickname (like “Panda” or “Penguin”), Google is taking it just as seriously as some of the other major changes we’ve seen over the past couple of years.

As of now, Google is using copyright infringement as a factor in its algorithm. Specifically, websites that have a number of valid copyright removal notices filed against them will see a drop in their rankings.

On the surface, this seems like a great idea. After all, Google has made it clear that it wants to see sites with quality content — but that doesn’t mean you should be able to get away with stealing quality content from someone else!

I’m all for punishing content thieves. I hate the thought of someone else stealing my creativity and my hard work and benefiting from it. Unfortunately, though, once you start digging into Google’s newest algorithm change, you actually wind up with more questions than answers. Even if you’re doing everything legally and ethically, some of these questions will make you awfully nervous:

1. What is “Valid”?

Just because someone files a copyright infringement complaint doesn’t prove that anyone has actually stolen anything. It’s like going over to your local police department and filing a report because your purse was stolen. Even if you say Joe stole your purse, the police still have to gather evidence that proves Joe really did steal it. Then, Joe has to be convicted in order for the purse theft to show up on his record.

According to Google’s Senior Vice President of Engineering, Amit Singhal, the world’s largest search engine received 4.4 million copyright removal notices in July 2012. That’s more than they received during all of 2009! It’s an astounding number, but how many of those complaints were actually “valid”?

Unfortunately, we don’t know, because Google hasn’t said what makes something “valid.” They also haven’t said whether they’re going to step up their investigative efforts. All they’ve said is that they’ve come up with new penalties. It’s no different than if the police started convicting people based on the accusations made in a police report. There’s no due process. To me, that creates a slippery slope. What’s next?

2. What is Considered to be a “High Number”?

Singhal also said that websites with “high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results.” Unfortunately, though, this is just as vague as the “valid” statement. How many copyright complaints do people have to file for you to actually lose your rankings? 10? 20? 100? 2?

3. Will This be the Newest Tool for Negative SEO-ers?

What’s to stop a shady competitor from filing a bunch of bogus copyright complaints against you? Is there any kind of tool in place to alert Google when an organization suddenly files a ton of complaints? What safeguards are in place to stop the people who will, undoubtedly, try to abuse the system?

4. How Do You Appeal?

If there’s anything that Panda and Penguin taught us, it’s that some of the “good guys” can get tangled up in the mess, simply by accident. So, what happens if all of the copyright complaints against you are bogus? After all, it’s not like you can call up Google headquarters and plead your case. Will there be any recourse for sites that see damage to their rankings?

5. Is This Nothing More Than “SOPA-lite”?

While this is merely an algorithm change — instead of being federal law, like SOPA was supposed to be — the result is the same for website owners. If you get caught up in this change, it can ruin your business. It evokes many of the same fears in websites owners that SOPA did.

Ironically, Google was firmly against SOPA. In fact, there’s talk that this latest algorithm change is actually Google’s way of trying to make the folks in Hollywood happy. Remember, when Google stood up against SOPA, movie studios, music labels, and television companies were not happy about it.

Hopefully, this change comes with enough of a strategy in place to truly stop content thieves — and not just an attempt to make nice with Hollywood.

6. What’s the Point?

Google has had steps in place to remove copyright-breaching pages from its search results altogether for years. Personally, I’ve filed a number of DMCA notices against websites that have stolen my content. Once Google was able to prove that my copyright had indeed been violated, I received an email saying that the offending webpage was removed from the results and, in its place is now a link to ChillingEffects.org — explaining exactly why the page was no longer listed there.

To me, that’s a much harsher penalty than having lower rankings. So, do we really need this algorithm change at all? It seems to be a step backwards.


If you’re looking for a way to make your website less “Google-dependent,” talk to Nicole Beckett. She and the team at Premier Content Source focus on content writing services that can bring you traffic that has nothing to do with Google! Nicole Beckett+

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Nicole Beckett

Nicole Beckett knows that content marketing will always play a huge role on the web.  That's why she spends her time helping business owners come up with the very best strategies.  Find out how she can take your web content to the next level by visiting Nicole and the team of journalists at Premier Content Source.

24 Comments

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  • What’s to stop a shady competitor from filing a bunch of bogus copyright complaints against you?

    That is one question i would like get answered and it’s one that worries me.

  • I actually think it is a good solution. There are tons of sites out here featuring e.g. software cracks, but it is next to impossible DMCA them all. Even if you got 1000 URLs DMCA’s you would still only cover a tiny fraction.

    By lowering the sites themselves per algorithm, you can at least avoid their prominence in legitimate searches without forcing small one-man companies to hire a dedicated person to hunt such sites down.

  • You are right. I think Google is doing things nowadays just for the sake of doing things. In reallity we do not need any such changes.

  • Why do Google feel the need to constantly change their algorithms in their crusade for perfection? Their search results are so messed up at the moment, they should just leave well alone until they fix the current mess they find themselves in. I did a search recently for a fashion related keyword in Google UK, and pages 3,4,5,6 and 7 were all the same domain! Really helpful.

  • How is Google going to handle trackbacks or displaying content from other sites “and giving credit to the site or author”? Everyone knows you could have a site on cars along with someone else. You post a blog post and I copy it, giving credit to you. Because Google thinks my site is more relevant to the post than yours, ranks me higher for your work. Naturally this upsets you, so you file copy write infringement. Is the second site wrong? They gave credit. How is it going to be handled?
    Depending on how this is handled, technically all sites displaying feeds are violating copy write.

  • Hi, I enjoyed the article. I agree that Google has got too much power in the market place for websites. Companies with an honest track record can have their businesses go bust with a simple algorithm change due to the impact on their search engine rankings. SEO companies will try to play catch up with these changes – but I don’t think it is fair that Google can move a business from the High street to the back street overnight. I think website owners / designers or webmasters /SEO companies developing or managing the site content – should be warned and allowed to implement changes first.

  • Good article, important to understand what Google is doing with its algorithm and what it may mean. Agree with the author, Google’s strategy seems a knee-jerk to please certain parties that it is serious on copyright. However, it may upset some sites needlessly, some who may well have been unfairly upset by other algorithm changes after a lot of hard, honest work. Audience Dialogue

  • Re links to ChillingEffects.org in place of the original search entry: These are far from ideaal as they stand; ChillingEffects can decide to repost your takedown request, therefore including whatever links you asked to be taken down – so anyone looking can still find them.

    What makes this even worse is the ChillingEffects links are shown on every page of Google’s search results – even if the original link to the pirated copy was only on page 6 say, the link to your takedown request on ChillingEffects will appear on Google search results page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, ad infinitum – you don’t even get that exposure with AdWords! I’ve therefore stopped submitting takedown notices to Google as they publicize where to obtain my copyrighted material illegally.

    If Google do now reduce the position of sites that are used heavily for copyright infringement, then that is definitely better than the current system where they move the links into ChillingEffects and publishing those instead.

  • I very much agree with you fears. Why even implement this if they already had a protocol in place to remove copyright-infringing sites from their search results?

    At the same time, sure content theft is bad, but who’s to say a content-thief can’t find a better way to present said content and thus make it more appealing to users. Sure its theft but Google should be looking to help their users the most useful content. Does it really have to play the ethical police ?

  • What about the old fashioned way of going to the web host to get a site owner to remove copied content? You’re right, there’s no due process in Google’s approach. If this is completely automated it’s ripe for negative seo’ers to claim a competitor is infringing on their copyright.

  • Great article and many valid points. There certainly needs to be some sort of webmaster’s regulatory committee that protects the works and investments of legitimate SEO, SMM &, SEM companies and/or individuals that abide by, rather than abuse and manipulate search engines such as Google or any other popular search engine.

    If your utilizing content that’s not yours, post authors name and/or link to source! Win, win. Articles are meant to be shared as long as is done in an ethical manner. Google can’t regulate who shares what, if it’s done according to a set of moral and ethical standards.

  • You are right. i believe Google is doing things these days only for the sake of doing things. really we don’t would like any such changes.

  • Google needs to keep their folks busy. It would be good if they would stop playing God because they are sinners…

  • Seems to me Google is out to be the new dictator on the block.

    I am as opposed to Copyright infringement as the rest of you, but when companies like Google start running the show they are setting themselves up as the new dictator on the block.

    The USA has no right to the internet and neither does Google. As webmasters maybe its time we spend our advertising dollars elsewhere, this will send the strongest message to Google they are treading on thin ice,

    After all, what’s to keep them from tightening the noose until we are all paying them more and more big bucks just to be seen???

  • I have completely given up on google, the reason is I built a website just about three years ago, it is an affiliate holiday site. When I first publish my sight I was reanked 20,000,000 with “Alexa” rank and have since worked to position myself in to position 585,567 at this present time. (I do not know how kosher these rankings are, as my traffic is still quite abysmal.)
    However,I obviously submitted my site to google and, although my site is indexed I have yet to gain any pagerank whatsoever with google, so I will just plod along and take notice of Alexa as it does give me some satisfaction that I am heading in the right direction, maybe at a snails pace but hey, whatever!

  • Thanks to everyone who has shared their thoughts so far… Keep ’em coming!

    It’s nice to see that I’m not the only one who’s confused by this latest change. It seems like there are too many things that can go wrong with it. Until Google can come up with a way to protect the “good guys” and punish the “bad guys”, they’re never going to be presenting the very best results to their searchers (and with all of the brilliant engineers they have working in Silicon Valley, they should be able to come up with a plan to sort this mess out).

    Like many of you, I’m concerned that I could be blindsided by a dishonest competitor. And, like many of you, I don’t see much of a point to this change — since it will still require complaints. You’re still going to have to go out and look for websites that have infringed on your copyrights (or pay someone to do it for you). It doesn’t do anything to help the little guys that don’t have time for that.

    One thing is for sure, though. It’s time to start looking at traffic avenues beyond Google. Personally, I’m always on the lookout for new guest posting opportunities, new websites where I can share my content (like BizSugar and similar sites), and new ways to get in front of my target audience. Sure, I like getting traffic from Google (and I’d certainly prefer NOT to lose all of my good rankings), but I don’t want them to have complete control over my business!

  • Google has every right to change their algorithms whenever and how ever they choose. They are not the only search engine in the universe of the internet.

    Ranking websites is a FREE service of Google, who also has many other free services. I think that one of them is prioritizing the search results to the geographical area of the query.

    No business or organization or individual is compelled to rely on Google to drive traffic to their website, nor should they be. Google is not a monopoly – though it may seem as though they are when people allow themselves to think so.

    Do I appreciate showing up on the first page when people search for organizations like mine in my city? Of course I do. My city name and the title of the organization are embedded in and promoted all over my pages. For me, that is just good marketing.

    However, all the SEO free analyses conducted on my site claim my ranking will be dramatically increased and I will rank #1 if I hire them to change my code. I’m already where I choose to be.

    I believe that this is a free market and I am as free to make changes to my website and algorithms as Google is to change theirs. Does each one complaining about Google’s changes also desire to remain in control of their own website? If so, then grant others the same free market right as you desire for yourself.

    Thank you for considering these comments.

  • It is hard to know if this algorithm change is for the good or bad, there should be some sort of appeals mechanism otherwise there could be widespread abuse, especially if this system is automated.

  • “…the world’s largest search engine received 4.4 million copyright removal notices in July 2012. That’s more than they received during all of 2009!”

    So what’s so hard to understand. How many people does it take to pull 4.4 million copyright removal notices off the net, and in one month nonetheless?
    Any business with that kind of headache, no matter the size, will instantly look at ways to get rid of that unnecessary expenditure of salaries.
    Plain and simple. The accountants looked at this unexpected and surprisingly huge expenditure at the end of the month, and the hammer came down. Get rid of that unnecessary expenditure or else!
    Managers couldn’t move fast enough to find the answers. And you now see the results.
    So, whose fault? The people receiving the notices in the first place, googles because they changed everything again, this time to protect their bottom line? Seems to me they did what any business in the world would do when they have an unwanted crisis on their hands. You conspiracy theorists are blowing in the wind on this one.

  • Grunj — I agree, the problem starts with the content thieves.

    However, you might be surprised to find out how many people it *REALLY* takes to pull off 4.4 million copyright notices.

    I didn’t want to name any specific companies/organizations in my article, but if you take a look at Google’s Transparency Report (http://www.google.com/transparencyreport/removals/copyright/), you’ll see that more than ONE MILLION of those July removal notices came from ONE ORGANIZATION. Another 2.3 million came from the combined efforts of 4 other organizations.

    This isn’t a case of the “little guy” crying foul when his content’s been stolen. The “little guy” doesn’t have time to file 1 million copyright notices (or the money to pay someone to file them for him).

    I think we can all agree that Google has to do something about copyright infringement, but with so many unanswered questions, it’s fair to wonder if this change is really for the better. Asking for more information doesn’t make you a conspiracy theorist 😉

  • It’s difficult to understand google alglo, actually we all just assume by seeing the ranking result. One thing i am sure that google give much priority to the content such as content should be fresh and meaningful.

  • Sigh. Well, lets see here now. There are rules and laws against murder, stealing, etc. Has that stopped anyone? Nope. Google can put as many “band-aids” on it they want. NOTHING will stop miscreants from stealing content. G is just playing ring around the rosie.