On Friday 10 August, Google announced that the number of valid copyright infringement notices received by Google will impact on a website’s Google ranking. This means that a lawful copyright holder can lodge a copyright infringement notice with Google, reducing the ranking of the offending website. Google also assesses these requests and removes the offending web page if Google deems the request to be valid. It appears that ‘valid’ requests can be those for which no counter-challenge was received. This means that, in theory, originators of original content will rank higher than pirates. However, it appears that it doesn’t stop there.
According to the website Search engine land, Google has taken this one step further. According to Search engine land, Google guestimates the likelihood or frequency of infringement under the auspices of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act “takedown” requests; based on this guestimate Google can then take action against a website with no actual proof.
The linked article seems to imply that spiteful people and those in competition with a website can lodge spurious copyright removal requests to detrimentally impact others. In contrast, Google says that removal requests are limited to copyright holders or reporting organisations representing copyright holders. Google claims transparency in this process, providing a transparency report including naming the source of complaints. Hopefully this means that if vexatious or malicious complaints are made, the perpetrators will be named and shamed so that the victims can take appropriate action. I’d like to see the punishment fitting the crime, with those making vexatious or malicious complaints having their websites reduced in ranking.
Chilling Effects provides a succinct summary of how to have takedown material restored (post now deleted). This summary talks about a claim where a valid copyright holder makes an invalid claim that his copyright has been violated and how to have the material restored. The conclusion states that, where an invalid claim has been made by a valid copyright holder, then the copyright holder becomes liable to the person whose material was improperly removed. I have to assume that a vexatious or malicious complaint also renders the perpetrator liable.
In conclusion, the steps Google is taking to remove material and/or push rankings lower where copyright may have been violated is of concern in the case of false allegations but it does not appear insurmountable when false allegations are made. As with anything, knowledge is power.