For more than a decade, various copyright industry groups have called on Google and other search engines to help contain the piracy problem.
Google was initially hesitant to take action, but the company has gradually tweaked its algorithms over the years to accommodate the complaints.
Behind the scenes, rightsholders and Google also worked on other undisclosed measures. While the company hasn’t said much in public, one major change is hard to miss. Starting last year, Google began removing entire domains from its search results.
In the past, Google said that it wasn’t in favor of these “whole-site” removals, but this stance has changed. When rightsholders inform the search engine of an order that requires local ISPs to block specific pirate sites, Google voluntarily does the same.
These search results removals are limited to the region where the blocking order applies, usually a single country.
There have been a few of these instances already, including in France, Denmark, and the UK. Most of the requests cite dated court orders; in some cases close to a decade old. However, new information shows that Google responds quickly to new orders as well.
New Dutch Blockades
Last month, a Dutch court ordered local ISP Delta to block access to dozens of domains linked to popular torrent sites such as YTS, RARBG, and 1337x. This second site blocking order in the Netherlands is a big win for local anti-piracy outfit BREIN, which has spent more than a decade on blocking-related cases.
BREIN’s efforts also resulted in a covenant, signed last year, where the major Internet providers agreed to voluntarily comply with orders issued against rival ISPs. And they are not the only ones.
A few days after the latest blocking order was issued BREIN notified Google, requesting the search engine to remove these domain names for Dutch visitors. And indeed, after a few days, the domains are completely gone.
“In response to a legal request submitted to Google, we have removed 6 result(s) from this page,” Google writes at the bottom of the search results for RARBG, for example.
These removals are entirely separate from the DMCA process. It’s a big step for Google to do this voluntarily but, given the detailed jurisprudence that’s in place, there’s a good chance that the search engine would have been ordered to do the same if the matter went to court.
While BREIN is certainly on the ball, not all rightsholders are as eager or sharp. For example, in the UK rightsholders have asked Google to remove dozens of domain names. However, some prominent sites still remain in search results.
These ‘missed’ domains include The Pirate Bay, Nitroflare, NSW2U, and various YouTube-rippers such as Flvto.biz and 2Conv.com. These sites are all blocked by UK ISPs but are still available in search results.
Perhaps some rightsholders are not aware of these new powers. We can’t think of any other reason why they wouldn’t ask Google to remove the domains. Especially since they send hundreds of regular takedown notices to Google every day.
Google is Silent
Several copyright holder groups, including the MPA and BREIN, have confirmed Google’s cooperative stance. They believe the removals are an effective tool to help fight online piracy since they boost the effect of site blocking measures.
Google itself remains quiet. TorrentFreak has sent repeated requests for comment on this matter over the past weeks and months. All requests remain unanswered.