There are hundreds of millions of pirate files inhabiting the Internet and it’s fair to say that many of those are music tracks. As a result, the world’s leading record labels, who together claim 90%+ of the market, spend significant sums making those files more awkward to find.
For sites like The Pirate Bay, which point-blank refuses to remove any torrents whatsoever, the labels have little option than to head off to Google. There the search giant will remove Pirate Bay links from its indexes so that users won’t immediately find them.
However, rather than engaging a link whack-a-mole, the best solution by far is to remove the content itself. Perhaps surprisingly, many of the world’s leading file-lockers (even ones labeled ‘rogue’ by the United States), allow copyright holders direct back-end access to their systems so they can remove content themselves. It doesn’t really get any fairer than that, and here’s the issue.
This week, while looking at Google’s Transparency Report, TF noticed that during the past month massive file-hosting site 4shared became the record labels’ public enemy number one. In just four weeks, Google received 953,065 requests for 4shared links to be taken down, the majority of them from record labels. In fact, according to Google the BPI has complained about 4shared a mind-boggling 6.75 million times overall.
So, is 4shared refusing to cooperate with the BPI, hence the group’s endless complaints to Google? That conclusion might make sense but apparently it’s not the case. In fact, it appears that 4shared operates a removal system that is particularly friendly to music companies, one that not only allows them to take content down, but also keep it down.
“Throughout the years 4shared developed several tools for copyright owners to protect their content and established a special team that reacts to copyright claims in timely manner,” 4shared informs TorrentFreak.
“We don’t completely understand BPI’s reasons for sending claims to Google instead of using our tools. From our point of view the best and most effective way for copyright holders to find and remove links to the content they own is to use our music identification system.”
To find out more, TF spoke with the BPI. We asked them to comment on 4shared’s takedown tools and in the light of their existence why they choose to target Google instead. After a few friendly back-and-forth emails, the group declined to comment on the specific case.
“We prefer to comment on our overall approach on search rather than on individual sites, which is to focus on known sources of wide scale piracy and to use a number of tools to tackle this problem,” a BPI spokesman explained.
“Notice-sending represents just one part of the measures available to us, along with site blocking and working with the Police to reducing advertising on copyright infringing sites.”
We asked 4shared to reveal other copyright holders using their system, but the site declined on privacy grounds. However, it’s clear that the BPI isn’t a user and 4shared have their own ideas why that might be.
“It’s possible that BPI goes for quantity not quality,” TF was told.
“If they are trying to increase the number of links in reports or for PR reasons, they probably use a bot to harvest and send links to Google despite the fact that such an approach may also result in false claims.”
The “PR” angle is an interesting one. Ever since Google began publishing its Transparency Report rightsholders have used it to demonstrate how bad the piracy problem is. Boosting those numbers certainly helps the cause.
But is it possible, perhaps, that the BPI doesn’t trust the 4shared system. They didn’t answer our questions on that front either but it seems unlikely since 4shared uses EchoPrint, a solution purchased by Spotify earlier this year.
“Our music identification system which is based on Echoprint technology will not only find all matching content but will also restrict sharing of all potential future uploads of such content,” 4shared concludes.
Take-down-and-stay-down is the Holy Grail for anti-piracy companies. It’s a solution being pushed for in the United States in the face of what rightsholders say is a broken DMCA. On that basis there must be a good reason for the BPI not wanting to work with 4shared and it has to be said that the company’s “PR” theory proves more attractive than most.
The volume of notices in Google’s Transparency Report provide believable evidence of large-scale infringement and it’s certainly possible that the BPI would prefer to have 4shared blocked in the UK than work with the site’s takedown tools.
We’ll find out the truth in the months to come.