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Google rolling out new Search update to downrank 'most notorious' pirate sites

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Google and the copyright lobby have been, to some extent, enemies for years — they probably will be as long as Google is an index for the web and the web contains pirated media. But as the company's grown up, it's partnered with the music industry to root out piracy (or pay royalties) on YouTube; it's set up its own book, movie, and music store with Google Play; and last year, it put up a report detailing its attempts to fight copyright infringement and assuring rightsholders that YouTube and Search made up only a small portion of pirate traffic. This year, it's taking the same tack, with a few new details.

Google's report outlines some of the information it regularly releases in its transparency reports, including the huge jump in DMCA takedown requests: it said it received 224,000 requests in 2013 and removed over 99 percent of them; in 2012, it reported taking down roughly 97.5 percent of 57 million. In 2012, it started downranking sites that received large numbers of takedown requests. In this latest report, it announces that it's rolling out an apparently stricter update next week. "We've now refined the signal in ways we expect to visibly affect the rankings of some of the most notorious sites," says Google. It's also extending this system to "demoting autocomplete predictions that return results with many DMCA demoted sites." Search already outright removes autocomplete suggestions that explicitly encourage piracy, making this a relatively small change in the larger anti-piracy scheme; it sounds like the demotion of "notorious" sites may be more dramatic.

More generally, Google has included the same boilerplate about its success in driving visitors to non-pirated sources — complete with last year's references to Carly Rae Jepsen. Last year, the highly anti-piracy Motion Picture Association of America praised the report but remained skeptical of Google's efforts. "Everyone shares a responsibility to help curb unlawful conduct online, and we are glad to see Google acknowledging its role in facilitating access to stolen content via search," said a spokesperson this year. "We look forward to examining the results of Google's algorithm changes to see if they reduce the appearance in search results of stolen content and the sites that profit from it."