Google has announced an update to its search ranking algorithm that will demote sites serving pirated content, in a move that should please copyright holders who have long called for this move.
The company said that it would be adding a number of criteria to its ranking process which will take into account the number of Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown requests a site has received.
With the new system, sites which have in the past received a higher number of DMCA takedown requests will be placed lower in a user's Google search results.
The company said that only valid takedown requests will be considered in the ranking.
"Since we re-booted our copyright removals over two years ago, we have been given much more data by copyright owners about infringing content online," Google senior vice president of engineering Amit Singhal said in a company blog post. "In fact, we are now receiving and processing more copyright removal notices in one day than we did in all of 2009, more than 4.3 million URLs in the last 30 days alone."
The company noted that it will only penalize sites which have received valid takedown notices from rights holders and that Google itself will not be judging whether a site is infringing on copyrighted content.
"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," Singhal noted. "So while this new signal will influence the ranking of some search results, we won't be removing any pages from search results unless we receive a valid copyright removal notice from the rights owner."
Google has often been asked to stop prominently displaying links to sites thought to offer pirated content, and the news it is overhauling its search results was welcomed by the creative industries.
The BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor said it was a good first step in the ongoing battle against copyright infringement and that it would be assessing the impact of the change overtime.
"We have argued for some time that sites with a lot of illegal content should feature lower in search rankings, based on the notifications we send to Google," he said. "We will look carefully at how much impact this change will have in practice, but we welcome the announcement from Google and will be pressing other search engines to follow suit."