Sorting out what makes them 'valid'
Last week, Google announced that it will start to include "the number of valid copyright removal notices we receive for any given site" as an input in search rankings. On Google's search blog, Amit Singhal explained that "Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results."
At Cnet, Greg Sandoval reported on the mixed reaction to Google's announcement. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) cautiously supported the change, noting "[We] look forward to Google taking further steps to ensure that its services favor legitimate businesses and creators, not thieves."
On the other side of the equation, advocates like Wendy Setzer, who founded Chilling Effects, a joint project of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and seven universities, expressed doubts. In Sandoval's article, Setzer responded:
"It's a reminder, I think, that search is not just an objective view of what's out there on the Internet but a particularized sorting of that information," Seltzer said. "Google has chosen to include another signal in that sorting…. It's a concern when it changes the impact of the takedown notice."
In its announcement, Google does try to say that it is weighting "valid" copyright removal notices. Of course, the announcement goes on to say that Google is "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."
At that pace, it's reasonable to ask how any organization can distinguish between 'valid' and 'invalid' takedown notices.
A simple, real example comes from Mathew Ingram, whose GigaOm article, "The eBook lending wars: When authors attack" describes what happened to LendInk when a collection of authors objected to their books being lent by the service.
Read all of Ingram's post. Many authors objected to a legitimate business because they didn't understand what it was doing. Some issued takedown notices simply because the service LendInk provides didn't sit right with them.
The consequence? LendInk has "effectively been put out of business".
There may be evidence that lending services can help sales, but that's not my prime concern here. Google has changed the rules to weight takedown notices. We hope they'll choose just the 'valid' ones, at a time when we can't even agree on what 'valid' means.