Earlier this year, we noticed that Google had removed several popular pirate sites from its search results.
In the Netherlands, for example, The Pirate Bay and many of its mirrors and proxies were delisted by Google in response to a notice sent by local anti-piracy group BREIN.
Later, we learned that similar requests were being sent to Google by movie company representatives in other countries. In response, Google removed thousands of URLs from its search engine in countries such as France, Norway, and the UK. In all cases, the domains were already blocked by ISPs following a court order.
Google’s decision to voluntarily take action is noteworthy. The company apparently removed thousands of ‘pirate site’ domain names without being named in a lawsuit and despite earlier objections to this type of whole-site blocking, of which it doubted the efficacy.
The search engine hasn’t elaborated publicly on this remarkable step, but it’s clear that the company now believes that delisting pirate sites is the way forward. This is music to the ears of Hollywood, which is happy with Google’s voluntary help.
MPA is Happy With Google’s Help
Motion Picture Association CEO Charles Rivkin believes that initiatives like this really make a difference in the fight against online piracy. Behind the scenes, the MPA assisted Google in this delisting campaign which has been rolled out in ten countries thus far.
“Working with MPA, Google has removed a substantial number of piracy-related domains from its search results in these countries to help effectively enforce court orders requiring ISPs to block access to piracy sites,” Rivkin notes.
MPA’s boss mentions that nearly 10,000 domains have been removed by Google, spread across ten countries. The search engine takes action based on so-called “no-fault” court orders, which are typically directed at ISPs.
Google isn’t mentioned in these orders but is choosing to enforce them voluntarily. This means that domain names such as thepiratebay.org and fmovies.to will be removed from search results completely in many cases. According to the MPA, this action has already had a positive effect.
“Google’s delisting of pirate sites works,” Rivkin says. “Our initial research into the efficacy of delisting efforts is promising, showing that traffic to piracy sites when blocked and delisted decreased more sharply than traffic to piracy sites that were only subject to blocking by ISPs.”
Better Than Standard Blockades
ISP blocking orders already reduce traffic to pirate sites but paired with search engine blocks they are even more effective. According to Rivkin, this is especially true for piracy streaming sites, which show a 1.5 times larger traffic decline on average when they are also delisted.
“Given the scale of the problem — remember, we’re talking about over 137 billion visits to film and TV piracy sites annually — in real terms, delisting of pirate sites matters,” Rivkin notes.
In the past, the entertainment industries and Google haven’t always had the best relationship. In fact, Google was a fierce opponent of the SOPA bill, which would’ve opened the door to pirate site blocking orders in the United States. The current delisting actions show that Google’s perspective has changed.
‘Blocking Injunctions Are Safe and Effective’
In addition to praising Google’s efforts, the MPA also takes the opportunity to show how effective blocking orders can be. This is important, as these are available in dozens of countries around the world, but not in the U.S.
The MPA previously opted to change the legal framework in the United States to allow for these orders on its home turf. Rivkin indirectly suggests the same, noting that these “no-fault” blocking orders are both effective and proportional.
“The process to issue these orders includes a high level of due process, and often the ISPs and intermediaries participate voluntarily. All the while, these orders have worked exactly as intended by the law — tackling illegal content only and ensuring that the internet user experience and access to legal content is unhindered.”
Critics of blocking orders have often countered that they could lead to overblocking, while hardcore pirates can easily circumvent that. According to Rivkin, however, overblocking isn’t really an issue, and while no anti-piracy measure is 100% effective, site blocking is one of the best tools around.
“To be sure, no anti-piracy tool is perfect. And there will always be a segment of users who will actively work to evade and circumvent these blocks. But the data are clear: these ‘no-fault’ judicial orders are safe, especially when narrowly targeted at genuine bad actors under the supervision of the courts.
“And we know from empirical research and real-world testing with our partners at Google that delisting adjudicated piracy sites from search results makes this already effective legal tool even more potent,” Rivkin concludes.