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Google began a crackdown on internet piracy by relegating websites that often host unlawful copies of films and music, in what is being seen as a victory for the entertainment industry. The main Google search engine will take into account the number of copyright infringement notices it has received in relation to each website when it determines their ranking. Websites that are frequently accused of piracy will appear lower in results, said Amit Singhal, Google’s head of engineering. “Since we re-booted our copyright removals over two years ago, we’ve been given much more data by copyright owners about infringing content online,” he said. “In fact, we’re 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.”

Google’s concession to copyright holders follows years of criticism that it was turning a blind eye to blatant piracy by including rogue websites high up in search results. The entertainment industry has been lobbying governments to force Google’s hand, including in Britain.

BPI, the record industry body, applauded Google’s move. “We have argued for some time that the fact that certain websites are subject to very high numbers of notifications, because they feature a large amount of illegal content, should be reflected in lower search rankings,” said Geoff Taylor, the organizations chief executive.

“Consumers overwhelmingly want and expect the top search results for entertainment content to feature legal, licensed services. We will look carefully at how much impact this change will have in practice, but we welcome the announcement from Google and will be pressing other search engines to follow suit.”

Google said it would not completely remove links to websites accused of piracy unless it received a valid court order, although it will penalise websites that have a high number of content removal notices by pushing them down the rankings therefore allowing legitimates sites will rise in the rankings.

“Only copyright holders know if something is authorized, and only courts can decide if a copyright has been infringed; Google cannot determine whether a particular webpage does or does not violate copyright law,” said Mr Singh.

YouTube, the Google-owned video website, itself often accused of infringing copyright, is not expected to be relegated in the rankings, however, according to the blog Search Engine Land.

It nevertheless represents another victory for the entertainment industry, which has also cut off many people’s access to major piracy websites such as The Pirate Bay in the last year.

This move is also seen a potential benefit to Google as it will put them in a better position to strike deals with music companies and in turn make way for its much delayed Google Music service.

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