An update on Microsoft’s efforts to reduce online piracy and improve search results

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As both an intellectual property owner and the operator of our Bing search engine, Microsoft is uniquely positioned to assess the role of online platforms in helping to combat online piracy. Our experience demonstrates that effective online enforcement begins with the IP owner, who is best situated to identify and act on instances of infringement. Online platforms also play a role by providing tools and processes to aid intellectual property owners in reporting infringement, and by removing identified infringing materials.

Not only do these measures protect intellectual property owners, but our users also benefit by locating higher quality content from authoritative sources.

The vast majority of content available online is legitimate, so measures that we implement in our online platforms have to be effective at addressing online piracy without also harming the visibility or availability of that information. While our experience with our search engine demonstrates that online notice and takedown tools are the most effective way to remove search results that link to Web pages devoted to infringement, we also recognize the need for additional voluntary measures in cases where takedown practices are not as effective. We look for measures that will attack these problems in efficient, effective and scalable ways.

Our initial priority for these voluntary measures has been to focus on users who are searching for information on popular music and film content. Bing has been experimenting with a couple of changes: 1) adjusting the ranking algorithm using information from copyright takedown notices, so that sites dedicated to copyright infringement are demoted appropriately, and 2) making improvements to our auto-suggest and related search suggestions so that they do not present suggestions that are likely to lead users, with innocent intent, to infringing content.

Our initial experiments have been promising, demonstrating that sites that received significant volumes of copyright infringement notices were impacted. Similarly, many auto-suggest and related search suggestions that seem likely to lead innocent users to potentially infringing content were suppressed. More importantly for our users, both experiments improved the quality of search results. Both of these improvements will be implemented in the near term.

Working in cooperation with rights owners is essential to identifying infringing materials and quickly removing and demoting them. Such cooperation is important given the complexity posed by removing search suggestions and improving search results on a global scale, while also trying to ensure minimal impact on links to legitimate material.

Update 9/2/16: Bing continues to experiment with improvements to its ranking algorithms that demote search results based on copyright takedown notices. Bing is happy to announce that it has launched an improvement to the results ranker. These improvements make it easier for Bing users to locate links to legitimate content from authoritative sources for popular film and music search queries, without impairing access to other search results. The continued receipt of copyright infringement notices from rights holders remains essential for ensuring these algorithms work as effectively as possible.

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