Google denies YouTube has immunity from new piracy policy

Google has denied reports that its new anti-piracy policies don’t apply to YouTube, despite the video service’s reputation as a hotbed of copyright violations.

The new measures, which were unveiled late last week, will implement a new algorithm to penalise sites that illegally post copyrighted content and garner a lot of complaints.

"We will begin taking into account a new signal in our rankings: the number of valid copyright removal notices we receive for any given site," Amit Singhal, a Google senior vice president for engineering, wrote in a blog post. "Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results."

Members of the entertainment industry have been laying pressure on Google to enact policies that limit pirated content from having favourable search rankings. Two years ago, the company revamped its practices relating to infringement and copyright removal notices. Since then, formal copyright complaints have shot up: “we’re now receiving and processing more copyright removal notices every day than we did in all of 2009 - more than 4.3 million URLs in the last 30 days alone,” Singhal wrote.

But Search Engine Land has alleged that YouTube will have an immunity of sorts from the proposed piracy penalty. According to the news site, complainants are redirected to a different copyright removal process when reporting infringement on YouTube and other Google-owned sites. Though the notices can still result in takedowns of illegal content from the video service, YouTube will, in effect, be exempt from the search standings penalty, Search Engine Land reports.

In response to the accusation, Google clarified that it is “treating YouTube like any other site in search rankings. That said, we don’t expect this change to demote results for popular user-generated content sites.”

The statement, which runs counter to the search giant’s explanation of the new piracy policy, suggests that not all instances of copyright infringement are equal. Its algorithm takes into account more factors than the number of valid of infringement complaints, the company went on to tell Search Engine Land. So even if YouTube were to receive more complaints than another site, it would not receive the same sanctions. It’s not clear exactly what factors the algorithm prioritises, but popularity, and perhaps being Google-owned, appear to be on the list.

Google is currently facing an EU antitrust probe over allegations it favours its own products in its search rankings, a practice the company has denied engaging in.