Google changes search service to prevent online piracy

Google logo, AP The changes will be implemented over the next few months

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Google has said it will tweak its search service in an attempt to tackle online piracy, following lobbying by the music industry.

The search giant will implement four changes, including the removal of words that are associated with piracy from appearing in its autocomplete feature.

However, it will not prevent sites that host illegal copyright material from appearing in its search results.

The music industry said the measures did not go far enough.

"It is encouraging that Google is beginning to respond to our calls to act more responsibly with regard to illegal content," said a spokesperson for the BPI, which says artists lose out on millions of pounds every year because of online piracy.

"However, this package of measures, while welcome, still ignores the heart of the problem - that Google search overwhelmingly directs consumers looking for music and other digital entertainment to illegal sites."

The thoughts were echoed by the Publishers Association, which represents the book and print industry.

"We hope that the measures announced today take effect quickly and that Google could then consider going further, so that illegal sites don't appear in general free search results," said its head, Richard Mollet.

Google is the most popular search engine in the world.

The firm's Simon Morrison said that it "heard from rights holders all of the time" and that the move would help "content owners make money online and help users find legal content".

Word games

The package of four measures will roll out over the coming months.

They include a commitment to prevent Google ads being displayed on sites hosting illegal content, preventing the owner making money from them.

In addition, it would implement measures to make short previews of legal content - such as songs - more prominent in its search results.

Start Quote

We are concerned that words like 'torrent' might be harder to use on Google”

End Quote Jim Killock Open Rights Group

"It's a two-fold strategy where piracy will be far less of a problem and there will be more growth in legal online services," said Mr Morrison.

The firm said that the tweaks were "not about altering search results" and that sites hosting illegal material would not be automatically penalised.

However, the firm said that it would introduce new measures to guarantee that sites using Google's own services to host illegal content would be taken down with 24 hours of a request from rights holders. It will also make it easier to file counter claims, said Mr Morrison.

In addition, the search firm will remove key terms from its autocomplete feature, which offers users suggestions of terms as they type in the search box.

For example, typing "Lady Gaga MP3" currently brings up suggestions such as "free download" or "torrent".

Torrents are files that are commonly distributed using BitTorrent software. Although it has many legitimate uses, it is also commonly used to exchange illegal copyright material.

Mr Morrison said the firm would review these suggestions based on its experience of dealing with so-called DMCA requests - a US legal framework that governs the removal of copyright material.

"If you look at certain terms, you can see that they lead to certain sites that produce a lot of these requests," he said.

He admitted that it was going to be a "difficult process" to determine which terms to remove and in which combinations, as many search terms could have multiple meanings.

Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group said it would be asking Google how this would be done.

"We are concerned that words like 'torrent' might be harder to use on Google," he said.

"Many small software groups and movie makers depend on torrents for legitimate distribution. There is no reason why they should be put at a disadvantage."

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