Search engine giant, Google, has adjusted the search engine optimisation (SEO) algorithm it uses to help businesses find their way onto its search results pages, by making it deliberately undermine the chances of consumers finding sites it says have been accused of copyright infringements.

Armit Singhai, senior vice president of engineering at Google, said that the algorithm had now been programmed to identify sites in connection with which Google had been sent a significant volume of notices ordering the removal of copyright material.

Such sites, he said, would henceforward be automatically downgraded in Google’s search engine results rankings. Singhai explained:

“[The algorithm change] should help users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily.”

Singhai, however, was at pains to point out that the downgrading of the questioned sites did not imply any formal guilt on their part:

“Only courts can decide if a copyright has been infringed; Google cannot determine whether a particular webpage does or does not violate copyright law.”

Some commentators have said the move by Google is a clever way of avoiding appearing to censor material, while at the same time respecting the rights of copyright holders.

Google, however, has also said that sites dealing primarily in content supplied by end users would not necessarily be hit by the new algorithm modification.

This exception would, say some commentators, probably also apply to Google’s own social networking site, YouTube, which maintains its own internal policing processes to identify and remove material which it suspects of copyright infringement.