For most people, search engines such as Google are an essential tool to discover and enjoy the web in all its glory.
With help from complicated algorithms, the company offers a gateway to billions of sites, many of which would otherwise remain undiscovered.
This also includes many ‘pirate’ sites. While there are plenty of people who don’t mind seeing these show up in search results, their presence is a thorn in the side of copyright holders.
Roughly a decade ago this was hardly recognized as a problem. At the time, Google was asked to remove a few dozen URLs per day. In the years that followed, that changed drastically.
In 2012, Google was asked to remove more than 50 million URLs and by 2016, the search engine processed more than a billion reported URLs a year. This increase in notices coincided in large part with heavy critique from copyright holders, which asked Google to do more to curb piracy.
These comments didn’t go unnoticed at the Googleplex in Mountain View. In recent years, the search engine has taken a variety of measures to ensure that pirate sites are less visible. This includes demoting known offenders in search results.
Around the same time, the number of takedown requests from copyright holders started to drop. While we don’t know if that’s directly related to Google’s anti-piracy measures, it is clear that the number of reported URLs has gone down significantly.
According to Google’s transparency report, the company processed little over 500 million takedown requests over the past 12 months. That’s a 50% decrease compared to the billion it received a few years ago, and a 25% decrease compared to two years ago, when we first noticed the shift.
The decrease is in large part caused by the most active senders of takedown requests. For example, three years ago UK music group BPI sent in an average of two million URLs per week, with peaks of over three million. This year, the same group is averaging less than a million per week.
Similarly, the Mexican music group APDIF previously reported over four million pirate links to Google every week. This has now dropped to a few thousand, including some weeks with zero requests.
Also, MarkMonitor, which works with many Hollywood studios, reduced its takedown requests by roughly half.
While the data can’t be linked directly to Google’s anti-piracy measures, BPI Chief Executive Geoff Taylor informed us earlier this month that demotion of known pirate sites “has significantly improved the quality of results presented to consumers.”
After years of animosity between copyright holders and Google, both in public and behind closed doors, that’s certainly a major change in attitude.