In recent years various copyright holder groups have said that Google isn’t doing enough to limit piracy, demanding more stringent measures.
One of the suggestions often made is to remove “known” copyright-infringing sites from search results.
While Google has categorically rejected these requests, several prominent pirate sites have mysteriously vanished from Google’s index over the past several days.
This includes Fmovies.to, which is a popular streaming portal that allows users to stream the latest movies and TV-shows for free. A search for fmovies.to shows that the site’s URLs are no longer indexed.
A search for the keyword Fmovies now puts the unrelated site Fmovies.io at the top of the results.
The same has happened to Fmovies’ competitor 123movies, whose oficial 123movies.is and 123movies.cz domains are no longer listed. The top result for 123movies now points to 123movies.net instead, which is operated by different people.
Adding to the trouble, the site’s official Facebook page was completely removed as well recently.
At the moment we have no information to indicate that the removals are copyright related. In fact, considering Google’s previous stance it seems unlikely that it would start removing pirates site from its indexes voluntarily.
However, it’s clear that something’s going on.
In addition to the two streaming sites, the popular YouTube MP3 conversion tool YouTube-MP3.org has also vanished from Google’s search results (see update below).
This site has previously been warned by Google for violating YouTube’s TOS. It is currently being sued by the major record labels, but hasn’t been found guilty by a court of law yet.
For several years, YouTube-MP3 has been the top result for many YouTube MP3 related searches but as of this week it’s no longer indexed by Google at all.
We reached out to Google for a comment on our findings but we hadn’t received a response at the time of publication.
The most likely explanation is that Google found the sites guilty of some sort of violation and were removed as some kind of penalty. What type of violation that might be remains a mystery for now.
Alternatively, there may have been a court order we haven’t heard about, but there is no evidence in that direction.
While all affected sites are still indexed by other search engines such as Bing and DuckDuckGo, the removal is likely to hurt their traffic quite a bit, at least in the short term.
Update December 10: YouTube-MP3 is back in the search results