Yo Ho Ho! It’s Google Pirate

Does the Google Pirate update highlight the gap between user queries and staying on the right side of Google’s own legal responsibilities?

You are reading: Yo Ho Ho! It’s Google Pirate

Last week, whilst trying to find a music video online, Google alerted me to my search results not being quite complete…

As an ex-music business student, I assumed this was due to copyright infringements and found it pretty interesting. Plus I also had a feeling this was going to be a situation in which Google found themselves in yet another potential legal minefield.

After I found myself wanting to listen to a particular song by a particular band I did a quick Google search to find the music video. Now although the band aren’t a huge mainstream act, I expected better (or more plentiful) results than those that appeared. I scrolled to the bottom of the page wondering where all the usual stuff was and a little message I’d never seen before was waiting for me at the bottom of the page:

Digital Millenium Complaint screen grab
Digital Millennium Complaint screen grab

I resorted to Spotify to listen to the song and instead clicked through to find out more about DMCA complaint received. Although it was stated that only one search result was removed, the DMCA website informed me that from a complaint by the band’s record label on the 22nd of January this year there were a number of search results that Google had been asked to remove.

DMCA Complaint
DMCA Complaint

The copyright claim by the record company stated that the band’s official website was the original source of their new album and there were 73 ‘allegedly infringing URLS’. These, surprise surprise, were largely torrent sites.

Google has been trying to keep its nose clean for some time following copyright issues turning up in its search results. As I covered in a previous blog post, Google is now being expected to take responsibility for what it lists as search results rather than just displaying the information that exists. And it is because of this recent culpability issue that in October last year Google hit the torrent sites with a major blow by releasing an update to the Google Pirate algorithm. What this did was effectively ban the top torrent sites from appearing in the SERPs by demoting the sites from listing when a user specified “download,” “watch,” and “torrent” along with a film or song name. But it did not have the desired effect on the people Google were trying to placate.

The Motion Picture Association of America have long been trying to work with Google to make sure pirate films are not available via search. In a valiant effort that very few other large sites can match, Google removes around 9 million ‘infringing’ links from its SERPs at rights holders’ request every week. But in December Google and the MPAA fell out. Google’s Pirate update was a big deal – Google expected the MPAA to be pretty pleased as legitimate, quality sources of content appeared readily for Google users, but the MPAA saw this as Google admitting they had previously been ‘facilitating access to stolen content via search. Google were so annoyed that they’ve since stopped any association with the MPAA.

In 2014 alone Google were asked to remove more than 345 million links over copyright issues. This figure from 2014 (released by TorrentFreak not Google) is an increase of 75% when compared to 2013. It was also revealed that the BPI (British Phonographic Industry) made the largest number of complaints – 60 million takedown requests. But Google doesn’t always have to comply if the links don’t appear to be infringing. For example, they left up links to The Pirate Bay homepage despite a complaint from the BPI in 2013.

Personally, I think Google are toeing a difficult line between placating these large corporations and trying to 100% fulfil their users’ search queries (i.e keep their users happy). Otherwise, why would they bother to tell me about my missing results? And then why point me via a link to a website that listed all those illegal results, therefore enabling me to copy and paste these URLs into my browser?

As I feel Google are caught between a rock and a hard place, I’ll leave it to them to have the last word (taken from How Google Fights Piracy):

“Piracy often arises when consumer demand goes unmet by legitimate supply. As services ranging from Netflix to Spotify to iTunes have demonstrated, the best way to combat piracy is with better and more convenient legitimate services. The right combination of price, convenience, and inventory will do far more to reduce piracy than enforcement can.”

Do you feel that Google are taking unnecessary flack over copyright infringements? Do you as a user feel you have every right to see every result there is for your search query? Perhaps you are a struggling artist wishing that people would abide by copyright laws, or just someone who sees online content as fair game for everyone – let us know below which side of the fight you find yourself on.

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