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Google's Copyright Update

Published on August 24, 2012
Tags: SEO

To add to other Google updates aimed at promoting high quality, original content and penalising those sites that continue to break web etiquette in a range of ways, we can now add an update from Google aimed at copyright issues. The update was announced on 8th August and came into effect the week after and while, like the Panda and Penguin updates we’ve looked at previously, it shouldn’t affect most websites at all, it’s something that it’s definitely worth being aware of.

The copyright update (it doesn’t yet seem to have an animal-based nickname of its own) is aimed at those sites that have valid copyright removal notices against them, meaning that the more such notices a site has, the more it is likely to be penalised. In its blog post announcing the update, Google acknowledges that only courts can decide on issues of copyright infringement, so even though sites could be affected in the SERPs, it won’t remove content unless action is taken by the owner of the relevant rights.

Significantly though, Google also reports that it receives more copyright removal notices now on a daily basis than it did throughout the whole of 2009. The aim of taking valid notices into account in the search engine results is to help users continue to find high quality, legitimate information on the internet.

Something else to be aware of with regards to this update is the ‘counter-notices’ tool. This means that if, for instance, a valid notice is filed against a site and Google takes the step of removing the content, if the person whose content has been removed thinks the decision was wrong, it can file a counter notice to challenge the action. This, as discussed above, should only happen in the event that the proper legal steps are first taken to get the content removed; if those steps don’t happen, it seems that the site’s ranking will be penalised rather than pages removed.

However, even though the impact for most sites will probably be non-existent, this is still an important issue. The issue of copyright is a hot one, both in terms of protecting your own copyrights where necessary and in making sure you don’t infringe anyone else’s, accidentally or otherwise.

There are steps that you can take to help mitigate any issues related to this. For example, if you ever use someone else’s work on your website in a legitimate manner, make sure it is properly credited. A good example of this is images; it isn’t uncommon for sites to use images for which they do not have the copyright but which the copyright owner allows to be used. Most sites already credit the owners of the images, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure all of your pictures are properly accredited.

Also, if you are yourself an owner of any content that people might want to share or distribute elsewhere, it is probably worth giving some thought to your own copyright policy. For example, make it clear on your site that the copyright is yours and, if you are happy for people to share your content (such as by using your photos on their own blogs), state how you would like to be credited.

This is an issue that is of particular interest to the entertainment industry, as they are the ones who most often feel that their content has been used without permission. However, it is something that can affect anyone, so vigilance certainly seems sensible.
Something else to consider is that if your website allows users to upload their own content, you might want to take steps to prevent copyright infringement in their uploads. This is something that should ideally be dealt with in your terms and conditions so it is clear what you expect from users on the site and what they can and cannot post; and make sure you take action if the rules are broken.

A review of your website to make sure all content is original or properly credited where you have used anyone else’s material (and that you have got permission where necessary) should help and uncover any issues you need to address.

Overall, it is not yet entirely clear the impact that this Google update will have on search rankings or wider issues of copyright, but since it is a widely-discussed issue right now, it’s certainly worth checking your site complies with all the relevant regulations.
 

By Chelsey Evans

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