The popularity of Google’s search product, the most prominent tool the company offers, means that Internet users all around the world have a central and free point from where to seek, find and discover information.
Of course, due to the nature of the web that means access to both legitimate and unauthorized content, a situation of which the entertainment companies are well aware.
As a result the music, movie, TV, gaming, software, adult and dozens of other less mainstream industries have been bombarding the search giant with DMCA takedown notices in an attempt to stop Google’s users finding illicit content. Over the past 18 months the scale of the effort has gone from manageable to verging on the unbelievable.
Last month alone 2,362 copyright owners and 1,482 reporting organizations ordered Google to remove 13,665,695 URLs across a total of 43,980 domains. And very soon indeed a group of music rightsholders, who together accounted for 1,721,058 of last month’s takedowns, will reach their own personal milestone.
In the next few hours Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music, Warner Music and EMI – together the four largest member labels of the RIAA – will ask Google to remove the 10,000,000th allegedly infringing URL on their behalf.
The first RIAA takedown request listed publicly by Google took place on May 26, 2011 but it took until July 25, 2011 for the takedown numbers to really start adding up. During the week that followed a record 12,447 URLs were filed by the RIAA. By Nov 7 that same year takedowns had reached more than 30,000 URLs per week but it wasn’t until around 10 months ago that the music group really put its foot on the gas.
By the end of April 2012 the RIAA was asking for more than 200,000 URLs to be delisted every week, a level it largely maintained for the following four months. Then in August 2012 the labels opened the floodgates reaching more than 666,000 removal requests in a single week. While requests numbers have been diminishing ever since the numbers are still impressive, amounting to more than 1.7 million last month.
In total the RIAA has targeted 7,041 domains but who exactly are their main enemies? The world’s biggest torrent sites? Or maybe the world’s biggest file hosters? Well, perhaps a little surprisingly it’s none of those. What the labels appear to be doing is ordering Google (a search engine) to remove links that connect to yet more search engines.
With a total of 593,928 takedowns the RIAA’s primary concern seems to be a site called Downloads.nl. The site currently has a worldwide Alexa ranking of 5453 and is particularly popular with Indians. Without wishing to be too insulting it is a graphically bland affair, but type in the name of an artist along with a song title and the content appears – quickly – and can be played or downloaded in an instant. The site also derives at least 30% of its traffic from Google searches.
Second on the list of foes with 403,831 takedowns is MP3s.pl who appear to have the same frugal graphics approach as Downloads.dl. Nevertheless, the site delivers the goods on the MP3 front despite having an Alexa rating of just 44,073. This site also relies heavily on Google for its traffic to the tune of around 32%. Interestingly, through affiliate links MP3s.pl drives around 10% of its traffic to iMesh, an apparently legal P2P network supposedly approved by the RIAA.
In third place is Filestube, a site dedicated to indexing content on file-hosting sites. The search engine, which has a worldwide Alexa ranking of 267, has been reported to Google for a total of 377,236 links, despite not hosting a single file.
The top five takedown targets are completed with MP3Searchy.com (358,334 URLs, Alexa 43,143) and Weblagu.com (347,039 URLs, Alexa 8,699), both of which provide near instant access to music of just about any description.
But the big question remains – does the takedown strategy work?
While it’s obvious that there will be fewer Google links to these sites considering all the takedowns, go over to the sites themselves and search for any popular music and it’s all still there. Even if these top five sites were completely delisted by Google all one needs to do is type in “free mp3 search” into ANY search engine and dozens more MP3 search engines appear.
It is quite possible therefore that another 10,000,000 takedowns still won’t have the desired effect so one has to wonder if there is another strategy at play here. Will there be some kind of attempt to target one of these engines in future based on its “terrible” record of alleged infringements and use the ruling to batter the rest into submission? Time will tell.