Google's latest change to its closely guarded search ranking algorithm has elicited responses ranging from raised eyebrows to guarded praise. The announcement was short on details, but the upshot is that certain sites that Google's DMCA takedown data suggest are more likely to be offering copyright-infringing content will be demoted in search results, what some commentators have called a "Pirate Penalty".
It's too early to fully judge the new initiative, but a truly voluntary measure should not be dismissed out of hand. It is certainly preferable to – and may indeed have a more meaningful impact on online infringement than – misguided blocking legislation like SOPA and PIPA. If the change results in steering more traffic to licensed sources and away from infringing sites, it could be a win-win: reducing infringement, encouraging the growth of lawful alternatives, and relieving some of the pressure for overbroad legislative "solutions" to the piracy problem.
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