Google stamping down on piracy sites with updated search algorithm

  • 22nd December 2014
  • SEO

In an update to its ‘How Google Fights Piracy’ report, the search engine giant has revealed the new ways in which online criminals are being targeted and eradicated. The first edition of this piracy report was released in 2013, however Google has updated the numbers and shed light on certain developments that have taken place over the past year.

Algorithm improvements

Even though Google receives more than three billion search queries each day, it tries to prioritise anti-piracy measures where they will make the most difference. Therefore, when it comes to popular searches concerning music, movies, books, video games and other copyrighted content, Google is making every effort to not include links to infringing materials.

This is thanks to constant improvements to the algorithm that powers Google search as well as the efforts of rights holders who are giving copyright removal notices greater precedence. Part of this algorithm change is removing terms associated with piracy from Google’s Autocomplete and Related Search features.

What’s more, Google is making legitimate alternatives more visible. For example, searches for a certain musician or album will often return advertisements in the right hand panel of results. Along with displaying facts and images, it may now provide legitimate links from online streaming services such as Spotify or Beats Music, as Google has been playing with new ways of advertising.

On top of that, long tail consumption focus queries, which feature words like ‘download’ after the film title or artist album, are returning new ad formats directing users to legitimate sources. Although the number of these searches pale into insignificance compared to root queries, it is still a way of driving traffic to legal means of consumption.

Removal Notices

Google accepts various kinds of requests through its content removal web form, which is the fastest and most efficient way of trying to get copyrighted work taken down. Since 2012, Google has received over 35,000 requests from different entities to removal URLs from search results for copyright violations.

Since introducing new submission tools in 2011, Google has received an increasing number of removal requests. Due to the very nature of copyright infringement allegations, Google operates a comprehensive transparency policy. As well as maintaining a Transparency Report site, which is updated daily, Google also notifies webmasters of removals and informs users when results are taken down.

However, copyright removal notices are now being included in its ranking algorithm. Therefore, sites with a high number of removal notices could appear low down in search results, enabling users to find legitimate sources of content more easily. Even so, pages that do have copyright removal notices are not omitted from results unless a specific request has been made.

Recently, Google also improved and optimised the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) demotion signal in search results, which gives rights holders more power and influence over their content. Google has found that rights holders are using its removal process to target specific sites that are distributing unauthorised content, which has resulted in hundreds of millions of removal requests over the past year alone.

Challenges associated with search and piracy

Although Google is rightfully proud of the advances it is making, there are several problems and challenges that still exist, which are difficult to overcome.

First of all, search is not a major driver of traffic to pirate sites, as users looking to watch movies or listen to music for free will seek it out in other ways. Less than 16 per cent of traffic to sites such as The Piracy Bay comes from the major search engines (Yahoo, Bing and Google combined). In fact, these sites have stated that they do not need search engines, as users can find content through social media, word of mouth or other means instead.

A study from Google, co-sponsored by the PRS for Music in the UK, also found that piracy sites did not rely on search engine traffic to stay in business. A recent research white paper published by the Computer & Communications Industry Association came to this conclusion too.

And while Google may be seen as the Internet’s traffic police, search engines do not have much control over what is published on the web. Google says that as long as money can be made from hosting pirate material, there will always be sites dedicated to showcasing copyrighted works.

Furthermore, replicating these pages and creating mirror sites is cheap and easy to do. So, rather than trying to make these hosts disappear, more should be done on “eradicating the business model that supports them,” says Google.

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