Précis - Google has announced a change to its search algorithm, the change will effectively "downgrade" websites that persistently infringe copyright laws by displaying them lower in the list of natural search results.

What?  Currently Google uses over 200 "signals" to ensure that their search algorithms deliver the most accurate results. From the week commencing 13 August 2012, Google added a new "signal" to their list by taking into account the number of valid copyright removal notices they receive for any given site. Those websites with a high number of copyright removal notices will effectively be downgraded as a consequence of their persistent breaches of copyright laws and will appear lower on the list of search results.

Amit Singhal, Google's Senior Vice President for Engineering, has stated that:

"Since we re-booted our copyright removals over 2 years ago, we've been given much more data by copyright owners about infringing content online...we're now receiving and processing more copyright removal notices every day than we did in all of 2009."

So what?  Google's decision comes after persistent behind-the-scenes lobbying by the music and film industries to get Google to demote the search position of sites which they say infringe their copyright, for example The Pirate Bay. The announcement has been heralded as a victory for media and entertainment giants, who have complained for years that Google does not do enough to prevent access to material that breaches strict copyright laws on content such as music and television shows. In the past, Google has resisted taking into account the number of copyright infringements  as one of their search signals on the basis that its reputation was built on its search results reflecting what sites people point to for particular words or phrases.

Their previous refusal has also been said within the industry to have been the reason why Google Play has struggled to sign content deals with the music and film businesses to rent or sell a broader variety of films or music outside the US. This recent turnaround may result in Google being able to sign up the film studios and music labels so that it can compete with providers such as Apple's iTunes. Undoubtedly, many are in favour of the change. It is certainly likely that some sites will notice negative effects on their rankings, but this will not be the case for all sites as other ranking signals may be positive enough to keep the site's rankings high in a Google search result.