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Google designed its new ‘pirate penalty’ search algorithm to spare YouTube

Updated Dec 19th, 2018 8:32PM EST

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When Google (GOOG) announced late last week that it would start demoting websites that were repeatedly flagged for copyright violations, it raised a very pertinent question: Does this mean Google will start demoting YouTube results as well? The folks over at Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan did some terrific work over the weekend trying to figure this out, and discovered that Google has written a sort of “get out of jail free” card for YouTube and other popular content-sharing sites whose users frequently run afoul of copyright laws.

A Google spokesman told Search Engine Land that although Google’s new algorithms are “treating YouTube like any other site in search rankings,” the company did not “expect this change to demote results for popular user-generated content sites” such as YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook. How is this possible? Google wouldn’t go into specifics, but Sullivan says that the new algo “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.”

It’s impossible to say how fair or unfair this system is without specifics on what factors it uses, but Sullivan says that he’s seen enough to conclude that the new algorithm’s “penalty has been designed with a recipe that still gives YouTube, along with other popular sites, a likely escape.”


Brad Reed
Brad Reed Staff Writer

Brad Reed has written about technology for over eight years at and Network World. Prior to that, he wrote freelance stories for political publications such as AlterNet and the American Prospect. He has a Master's Degree in Business and Economics Journalism from Boston University.