For those unfamiliar with the service, JustWatch is a search engine that aims to direct consumers to legal options for TV shows and movies.
“We show you where you can legally watch movies and TV shows that you love. You are kept up to date with what is new on Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes and many other streaming platforms,” the company explains.
“Our simple filter system allows you to see only what is important to you. We also tell you where and when to watch movies on the big screen so you never miss when a movie is running in cinema again.”
TF covered JustWatch back in 2015 after the company acknowledged the negative effect Google’s “Pirate Update” had on torrent sites but somehow left streaming sites relatively unscathed.
Speaking with JustWatch this week, we asked the company if anything had changed over the past three years. Noting that a dedicated report will be out in the coming months, JustWatch says that it’s still unhappy with the situation at Google.
“We can already tell you that the situation (obviously) hasn’t changed much,” JustWatch Head of Growth Lise Le Petit told us.
“Google takes those illegal sites down regularly, but new ones pop up really fast and climb up in rankings pretty quick. In the end, there are as many pirate sites as 4 years ago swarming the Google search – they are just different ones.”
The big question, then, is what can be done? JustWatch says that instead of tackling problems once they’ve appeared in search results, Google should prevent sites from being indexed in the first place. And this where the controversy begins.
“Google could build up a Domain-Blacklist, which is owned/maintained by the MPAA in the US and Google, and would filter websites infringing on copyright,” Le Petit says.
“A company files against a whole domain and within a certain timeframe (2-3 weeks) all results of this website get deleted. We guess illegal sites won’t officially reply. The idea would be that instead of cleaning out single URLs, spammy domains would get flagged instantly as a whole.”
JustWatch doesn’t really believe such a thing will be implemented since Google “will never give away power over what they decide to show or not in their search result pages.” That being said, Google isn’t the only problem here.
A couple of weeks ago we reported how another search engine for legal content had experienced problems with wrongful DMCA notices targeting its domain. So, we wondered, might JustWatch be suffering the same issues?
A swift look at Google’s Transparency Report reveals that JustWatch, despite being entirely legal, is regularly targeted by anti-piracy companies. They write to Google claiming JustWatch is a pirate site and demanding that links are taken down from its indexes.
The great irony here is that these companies end up taking down links to their own legal content, if Google lets their erroneous claims slip through. Worse still, even though Hollywood is being touted as a possible “blacklist” maintainer, plenty of movie companies and their business partners are wrongfully taking down links to a perfectly legal platform.
In a notice from March 2018, Disney demands that a JustWatch link to Zootopia should be removed. In fact, JustWatch was simply promoting legal platforms where people can buy the movie.
In another, Sony Pictures Worldwide attempted to take down a JustWatch link to the movie No Way Jose, which was advising people to buy the movie from Apple, Google Play, and Amazon, among others.
Amazon itself can’t escape criticism either. In a notice sent by its anti-piracy company to ‘protect’ the TV show Inside Edge on Prime Video, the company tried to take down a JustWatch page which was actually trying to drive sales to Amazon.
While JustWatch would like to see some kind of blacklist, the company understands the pitfalls. It believes that transparency could be part of the solution, in much the same way that Google’s Transparency report shines light on the often-messy DMCA takedown process.
“The major drawback we see is the risk of censorship for websites that do not suit the MPAA – which is why this is a pretty controversial topic – and it should be,” Le Petit says.
“Although, if there is the will to change, one could make such a list accessible and transparent (including its criteria) to the public – plus the option for everyone to file against entries, for example.
“In the end, the real question is whether leaving full control to the black hole that is Google is better than creating a blacklist that might be seen as censorship,” she concludes.
Just like rightsholders, JustWatch has a vested interest in seeing ‘pirate’ links disappear from search results since that elevates its own links towards Google’s front page.
That said, Google doesn’t seem keen to censor sites voluntarily but the world could get a glimpse of what that looks like fairly soon regardless, with Australia edging closer to approving legislation to remove blocked pirate sites from search results.