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New Net Restrictions Sing the Same Old Tune

by Acadia Otlowski 

Google announced this week that it would be furthering filtering its search results, highlighting websites hosting legal content over pirated content.

This has been a point of contention between Google and the entertainment industry, which has long argued that the website should not bring up search results for websites with pirated content.

Google will now list legal music services at the top of its search result page in a box and down the side of the page. The catch is that these results will only be for paying customers. These sponsored advertisements will push pirated results down, making them harder to find.

Google has already changed its algorithms in the past, making it harder for websites hosting pirated content to be shown over legitimate results.  It said that these changes would further refine this process, making it more efficient.

Music trade group BPI said that it was “broadly pleased” with the changes made by Google, but feels as if websites should not have to pay to have their content shown high in Google’s results.

The BPI and RIAA have made tens of millions of combined requests for Google to remove search results that include content that the companies believe hurt their industry.

But Google has held a longstanding belief that many consumers turn to piracy when their content needs are not met by legitimate sources.

At first, Google was reluctant to tamper with its algorithms in any way, but eventually caved under pressure by the government and content-producing industries.

But how effective are Google’s algorithms really. When users know how to search for pirated content appropriately, only pirated results come up. For example, many users know how to use key words to search for content that is not legitimate. And while Google claims that its new algorithms will significantly reduce traffic on websites hosting pirated content, will it filter results on those pages where the user is specifically searching for these sites?

Music trade organizations want all pirated content to be blocked, as they feel it hurts their industry. But these are the post-content-monopoly days. Users are less willing than ever to pay for content and attempting to lock down all piracy will be an exercise in futility.

Part of what makes the Internet so unique is that, for the most part, no one service has a full monopoly on a particular piece of content. The sharing of content and ideas is how things gain popularity in the modern era. The content-creating companies need to either adapt or die. These groups have been digging in their heels for years, fighting a never-ending battle against pirates that are one step ahead of them.

BPI has pushed to block The Pirate Bay, one of the world’s largest piracy websites, so it is blocked from UK users unless they use a special proxy service.

These efforts are understandable; the music industry is struggling to remain profitable. But like so many other industries changed by the internet it will have to change and adapt, hopefully not destroying a free and open web in the process.