Google has announced a policy change. They will downgrade the search ranking of sites with high numbers of “valid copyright removal notices.” I have been searching but have yet to see a definition of what constitutes a “valid copyright removal notice,” so for now I am assuming that means any well-formed DMCA notice.
I have a problem with this. I have a problem whenever companies take the law into their own hands, especially when the law already handles the specific situation. The DMCA already goes to draconian levels to rectify infringements (and a whole huge bucket of non-infringing innocents who keep getting caught in the crossfire). Why does Google feel the need to take that one further? It is one thing to assist law enforcement while a crime is happening – like calling the police because someone in your store is slapping someone around. It’s another to further punish someone who is already in the hands of the justice system, and whose crime had nothing to do with you. That’s more like refusing to sell bread to someone who just got out of prison for possessing marijuana.
This isn’t “I refuse to help you break the law.” This is “I refuse to interact with you because someone made an unsubstantiated claim that you may have broken the law, which you may or may not already have rectified.”
To be clear, I fully support Google’s right to take this course of action. I question whether it makes business sense or moral sense.
From the business sense side of things, I don’t see the incentive. Google’s customers are its advertisers. Its advertisers pay money for their ads because Google has the best search, which the general public (Google’s product) mostly prefer. This action will directly reduce the utility of Google’s search, likely resulting in some reduction in the number of people who go to Google first.
At the same time, these infringers have not hurt Google (most of them have not hurt anyone, but that’s a whole other post). The only way the could hurt a company like Google is through competition. Google already has Youtube and Blogspot (companies that wouldn’t even exist now if Google had implemented this policy change ten years ago), so they would be fine with stopping any upstarts in their tracks. There’s some (anti-competitive, monopolistic) business incentive.
Not very “Do no evil” of them.
I couldn’t figure out where in the above to put this, so I’m adding it as a coda. Google has announced that while all sites (including its own properties) will have to play by the rules, it doesn’t expect popular user-generated content hosts to be affected (Youtube, Imgur, 9gag and the like will be fine). So if you are a popular infringer, you are fine — the only people who need worry are small-time enthusiasts who half the time are just using their fair use rights anyway. Yeah, that’s really going to be a huge blow to infringement.