Google: Punishing Pirate Sites in Search Results Works

Google released an updated overview of its anti-piracy efforts today. The company notes that many pirate sites have lost the vast majority of their search traffic due to its downranking efforts. However, Google stresses that it won't remove entire domain names from its search results, as this could lead to overbroad censorship.

googlefightspiracyOver the past few years the entertainment industries have repeatedly asked Google to step up its game when it comes to its anti-piracy efforts.

These calls haven’t fallen on deaf ears and Google has slowly implemented various new anti-piracy measures in response.

Today, Google released an updated version of its “How Google Fights Piracy” report. The company provides an overview of all the efforts it makes to combat piracy while countering some of the entertainment industry complaints.

One of the steps Google has taken in recent years aims to downrank the most egregious “pirate” sites.

To accomplish this, Google made changes to its core algorithms which punish clear offenders. Using the number of accurate DMCA requests as an indicator, these sites are now demoted in search results for certain key phrases.

Despite continuing critique from rightsholders, Google notes that this change has been very effective.

“This process has proven extremely effective. Immediately upon launching improvements to our demotion signal in 2014, one major torrent site acknowledged traffic from search engines had dropped by 50% within the first week,” Google writes, citing one of our articles.

More recently, Google’s own findings confirmed this trend. As a result of the demotion policy, pirate sites lose the vast majority of their Google Search traffic.

“In May 2016, we found that demoted sites lost an average of 89% of their traffic from Google Search. These successes spur us to continue improving and refining the DMCA demotion signal.”

Despite this success, entertainment industry groups have recently called for a more rigorous response. Ideally, they would like Google to remove the results from pirate sites entirely, and make sure that infringing links don’t reappear under a different URL.

However, Google doesn’t want to go this far. The company warns that removing entire sites is dangerous as it may lead to censorship of content that’s perfectly legal.

“Whole-site removal is ineffective and can easily result in the censorship of lawful material,” Google writes.

“Blogging sites, for example, contain millions of pages from hundreds of thousands of users, as do social networking sites, e-commerce sites, and cloud computing services. All can inadvertently contain material that is infringing.”

Similarly, Google doesn’t believe in a “takedown and staydown” approach, where the company would proactively filter search results for pirated content. This would be unfeasible and unnecessary, the company states.

“One problem is that there is no way to know whether something identified as infringing in one place and at one time is also unlawful when it appears at a different place and at a different time,” Google notes.

Instead, the company says that copyright holders should use the existing takedown procedure, and target new sites when they appear so these can be downranked as well.

Finally, Google stresses that search is not a major driver of traffic to pirate sites to begin with. Only a small fraction of users reach these sites through search engines.

While the company is willing to help alleviate the problem, search engines are not the only way to eradicate piracy.

“Search engines do not control what content is on the Web. There are more than 60 trillion web addresses on the internet, and there will always be new sites dedicated to making copyrighted works available as long as there is money to be made doing so.”

Instead of focusing on search, copyright holders should take a “follow the money” approach and make sure that pirate sites are cut off from their revenue sources, Google argues.

In addition, they shouldn’t forget to offer consumers plenty of legal alternatives to piracy.

Convincing the entertainment industries of its good intentions is easier said than done though. “This report looks a lot like “greenwash”,” says Geoff Taylor, Chief Executive of the music industry group BPI.

“Although we welcome the measures Google has taken so far, it is still one of the key enablers of piracy on the planet. Google has the resources and the tech expertise to do much more to get rid of the illegal content on its services,” he adds.

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