Google: Many Popular Sites Will Escape Pirate Penalty, Not Just YouTube

Google says that YouTube isn’t going to somehow solely escape its new “pirate penalty.” Any popular site may be OK, as the penalty works off of more than pure copyright infringement reports. Nuances in calculating the penalty should save popular user-generated content sites, the company said.

The Pirate Penalty

Initially, it sounded as if sites with many copyright infringement complaints filed against them with Google — such as those listed here in the Google Transparency Report — would be at risk under the new pirate penalty Google will begin imposing next week.

If that were the case, Google’s own YouTube site would have a unique advantage in that copyright infringement notices filed against it are largely handled through a separate system and wouldn’t count against it in the way other sites would be hit, under the forthcoming penalty.

YouTube & Copyright Infringement Notices

Our article from Friday, How YouTube Will Escape Google’s New Pirate Penalty, documents that situation in detail. But speaking with Google today, the company provided more details it hadn’t shared before.

In particular, Google said that notices filed against YouTube through the separate YouTube copyright infringement reporting system will be combined with those filed against YouTube through the Google Search reporting system.

So how many infringements in total will YouTube face, beyond the tiny 650 URLs removal requests filed through the Google Search system over the past year-and-a-half? Google still refuses to give a specific number, telling me only that it’s “magnitudes” beyond those with Google Search.

Google: YouTube & Others Not Likely To Be Hit
There’s an excellent chance that YouTube may have more copyright infringement notices filed against it (and upheld by Google) than any of the sites likely to be targeted through what can now be considered the Google Search takedown list. Despite this, Google repeated its earlier statement that it didn’t expect YouTube to be hit. That previous statement:

We’re 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.
How can this be? How can YouTube escape a penalty that seemed specifically designed to impact sites with a lot of copyright infringement notices (that Google has deemed valid) filed against them? That’s where those nuances I mentioned come in.

On Friday, when Google announced the forthcoming penalty, it suggested that sheer number of notices against a site were what was involved. From its post:

Starting next week, 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. Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results.

More Than Number Of Notices Counted

Today, Google told me today that the new penalty will look beyond just the number of notices. It will also take into account other factors, specifics that Google won’t reveal, but with the end result that YouTube — as well as other popular sites beyond YouTube — aren’t expected to be hit.

What other sites? Examples Google gave me include Facebook, IMDB, Tumblr and Twitter. But it’s not that there’s some type of “whitelist” of sites. Rather, Google says the algorithm automatically assesses various factors or signals to decide if a site with a high number of copyright infringement notices against it should also face a penalty.

Without clarification from Google, we can only make assumptions on how this will work. My guess is that Google will be looking at factors to somehow determine if a site seems legitimate. Does it have many reputable links to it? Can Google detect if there’s a lot of sharing of content from those sites? Are there factors that already give the site a good “reputation” in Google’s algorithms for other types of searches.

By “legitimate,” I’m making a further assumption that Google’s trying not to harm sites that seem to be making a good-faith effort through internal systems to remove infringing content. Just as YouTube has its own takedown system, other sites that are actively working to remove content after copyright holder complaints might be effectively given a pass in how the new penalty works.

In fact, Google even argues that YouTube is likely being assessed more severely under the new system. It knows how many complaints have been filed with YouTube directly, through YouTube’s own system, and those count against YouTube under the pirate penalty. In contrast, takedown notices that are filed directly with other sites, and acted upon by those sites’ internal mechanisms, are not counted.

Of course, other sites might have massively fewer requests filed against them, compared to YouTube. But the bigger issue is that the penalty has been designed with a recipe that still gives YouTube, along with other popular sites, a likely escape.

It might not be a YouTube-specific escape clause, but YouTube will escape along with other sites — and it’s not something that was made clear in the company’s initial announcement, which suggested the penalty was purely tied to number of notices acted upon.