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The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is giving Google a failing grade for is efforts to demote pirate sites on its search results. In August Google had announced that it would demote sites for which it had received copyright removal notices. The goal was to “help users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily.”

The RIAA found that,” [W]hatever Google has done to its search algorithms to change the ranking of infringing sites, it doesn’t appear to be working.” The bottom line:

Six months later, we have found no evidence that Google’s policy has had a demonstrable impact on demoting sites with large amounts of piracy. These sites consistently appear at the top of Google’s search results for popular songs or artists. 

The results of this demotion removal are sharp contrast with Google’s efforts to remove pirate sites from its ad network. We reported yesterday that the Annenberg Media Lab at USC had found that Google’s efforts to remove ads from placement on pirates sites was impressive. The Lab actually dropped Google from its list of Top Ten offenders a month after a year long study had placed Google at the top of the list.

That was not the case with search rank results, according to the RIAA. Among its findings:

    • Over the six-month period, Google received notices for tens of millions of copyright removal requests concerning various sites, including multiple repeat notices of infringement of the same content on the same site;
    • The sites we analyzed, all of which were serial infringers per Google’s Copyright Transparency Report, were not demoted in any significant way in the search results and still managed to appear on page 1 of the search results over 98% of the time in the searches conducted;
    • In fact, these sites consistently showed up in 3 to 5 of the top 10 search results;
    • This is of particular concern as studies have shown that approximately 94% of users do not go beyond page1 results;
    • For 88% of our searches for mp3s and downloads of popular tracks, Google’s “auto-complete” functionsuggested appending to the searches certain terms which are associated with sites for which it hasreceived multiple notices of infringement, thus leading to illegal content;
    • Well-known, authorized download sites, such as iTunes, Amazon and eMusic, only appeared in the top tenresults for a little more than half of the searches. This means that a site for which Google has received thousands of copyright removal requests was almost 8 times more likely to show up in a search result than an authorized music download site.

There are several possible reasons for this perceived fail on Google’s part. There may be a problem with the algorithm and/or it may be that fixing it is more difficult that originally imagined. That doesn’t seem seem likely given what Google has been capable of achieving in the past. What more likely is  that Google doesn’t pay that much attention to copyright notices until it boils over into a public relations disaster. That’s exactly what happened with the Annenberg report which was picked up by nearly every major and minor media and industry trade publication. The response will be telling if reporting on the RIAA’s report card gains media traction.

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