Feeds

YouTube escapes Google's piracy site smackdown

One law for us, and one for you

The essential guide to IT transformation

Analysis Google has admitted its own YouTube operation will not be affected by algorithm changes designed to demote pirate sites.

Google announced the proposed changes on Friday in the hope of fending off new legislation designed to make it act more responsibly. From this week Google will modify its search results so that websites are ranked based on the number of valid requests received to remove copyrighted material, among other factors.

Before the algorithm adjustment, Google's search engine rewarded the unscrupulous and punished the innocent. Rights holders were obliged to engage in a game of Whack-a-Mole with pirate sites, and Google received over a million infringement notifications a week. As most copyright holders are individuals or tiny businesses, who can ill-afford the overhead of chasing down pirates, this is a thankless and financially crippling exercise.

As the BBC highlighted recently, the tech blogosphere's characterisation of "Big Content" or the "MAFFIA" doesn't reflect reality. As smaller players and independents withdraw from the digital economy, the big business that remains is simply getting bigger.

"Music fans may find that an industry where [UK hip-hop label] Son Records can't make a living is not quite what they wanted," concluded Rory Cellan-Jones.

Creators' rights groups want the Do No Evil corporation to demonstrate some corporate social responsibility. For its search results, Google already acts as judge and jury, and can make entire continents disappear from the world wide web.

Arguably, it already actively adjusts the search results subjectively: Google News filters its feed so that critical stories, such as (say) this one, disappear from view within minutes. The rights' groups want Google to demote infringing links, to give legitimate digital content businesses a chance.

Yet the financial incentives are tempting. Google profits by selling advertising against pages pointing to the pirate sites, and the company is reluctant to halt business even when warned that it's acting illegally. Last year Google settled a criminal investigation by paying a $500m fine after ignoring repeated notifications.

"We’re treating YouTube like any other site in search rankings," a Google spokesbot told Search Engine Land - then adding rather tellingly: "That said, we don’t expect this change to demote results for popular user-generated content sites."

Google paid $1.65bn for YouTube knowing that its success was based on infringement, not user-contributed videos of cats or toddlers, emails subsequently showed. (See Google knew YouTube did evil, but bought it anyway, March 2010.)

So what criteria will Google use to allow YouTube to escape? Google won't say.

This has some fascinating implications. Google gives itself a huge competitive advantage by promoting its own properties over competitors: it gives prominence to Google+ over Facebook, for example. This has already attracted the attention of numerous antitrust investigators. Favouring YouTube is a high-risk strategy. Particularly since the content identification system Google has developed, and implemented, should make the filing of takedown notices redundant.

The ill-fated Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) required Google to remove pirate links, rather than demote them, and this portion of the controversial legislation had wide congressional support. If Google hopes that voluntary action can fend off a repeat of SOPA, it must be seen to implement fairly.

Google is a company at the crossroads. We can see hints that it wants to do the right thing, and grow the internet economy in partnership with creative industries. The old, scofflaw Google simply regards other people's creative material as free filler to sandwich in between its advertisements. But New Google can't seem to leave the Old Google behind, and probably nothing short of a culture change - with new management at the top - will allow it to make the transition. Remember, the fish rots from the head down.

Speaking of which, where is Larry Page? ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
6 Obvious Reasons Why Facebook Will Ban This Article (Thank God)
Clampdown on clickbait ... and El Reg is OK with this
Banking apps: Handy, can grab all your money... and RIDDLED with coding flaws
Yep, that one place you'd hoped you wouldn't find 'em
No, thank you. I will not code for the Caliphate
Some assignments, even the Bongster decline must
Barnes & Noble: Swallow a Samsung Nook tablet, please ... pretty please
Novelslab finally on sale with ($199 - $20) price tag
Ballmer leaves Microsoft board to spend more time with his b-balls
From Clippy to Clippers: Hi, I see you're running an NBA team now ...
Video of US journalist 'beheading' pulled from social media
Yanked footage featured British-accented attacker and US journo James Foley
Primetime precrime? Minority Report TV series 'being developed'
I have to know. I have to find out what happened to my life
Broadband slow and expensive? Blame Telstra says CloudFlare
Won't peer, will gouge for Internet transit
Netflix swallows yet another bitter pill, inks peering deal with TWC
Net neutrality crusader once again pays up for priority access
prev story

Whitepapers

A new approach to endpoint data protection
What is the best way to ensure comprehensive visibility, management, and control of information on both company-owned and employee-owned devices?
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Maximize storage efficiency across the enterprise
The HP StoreOnce backup solution offers highly flexible, centrally managed, and highly efficient data protection for any enterprise.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.