Google Is One Big Fat Pirate-Linking Search Engine

Is Google One Big Pirate-Linking Search Engine?
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Is Google bullying the entire media industry?

On Wednesday, Getty Images filed a complaint with the European Union’s antitrust commission over Google’s alleged piracy of its content.  Getty Images claims that Google ‘siphons traffic’ away from the company’s premium website.

In the complaint, Getty claims that pre-2013, the search engine only included low-resolution thumbnails, but shortly afterward switched to a high-resolution slideshow format.  Immediately after this switch, Getty says that traffic to their site dropped significantly, for which it holds Google completely responsible.

Getty reportedly sent complaints to Google in 2013, though Google took a hardline response.  If Getty didn’t like their full-image slideshows, they could drop out of image search entirely (and, well, maybe lose all relevance).  Getty decided to stay with the search engine as it wasn’t ‘viable’ for them to opt out, but have now moved forward with a complaint to the EU Commission to better deal with the situation.

This is a company that feels bullied, and railroaded into giving away their content for free.  Getty general counsel Yoko Miyashita spoke out on the case, saying that Google has ”promoted piracy” which has resulted ”in widespread copyright infringement, turning users into accidental pirates.”

“By standing in the way of a fair market place for images, Google is threatening innovation and jeopardizing artists’ ability to fund the creation of important future works.”

Now, the European Commission will have to conclude whether or not Google has broken competition rules.

But, this isn’t the first time complaints have been thrown Google’s way over copyright infringement.  Not by a long shot.  The search giant is continuously under fire over its alleged lack of care for copyright infringed works.

Shockingly, Google experienced a 60% increase in DMCA takedown notices year-on-year.

In 2014, Google reportedly processed a massive 345 million pirate-linking takedown requests.  Under DMCA ‘safe harbor’ laws, Google (and other similar-situated internet companies) are required to remove infringing content once they are notified by the content owner.

But if you think that’s bad, 2015 was worse, with the number of takedown requests recorded at 560 million, a 60% increase in just one year.  In November of last year, it was also reported that the search engine received more than 2 million takedown requests in one day, which equates to 1,500 infringement requests a minute.

The fact that Google received over half a billion take down requests in just one year is a strong and convincing indicator that there isn’t enough being done to prevent pirate sites from popping up in Google search.  Or, at the very least, preventing them from reoccurring.

Google has taken some steps to address the issue by implementing changes to its search algorithm to lower the ranking of sites that receive copyright infringing notices.  But, there are still several large-scale torrent sites among the top search results.

Google at war with the BPI.

The British Phonographic Industry (BPI), a recording industry trade group, has been battling with the search giant for some time.  Last month, the company reported 200 million links to infringing content on Google since July 2011.  The BPI reported these infringing links via Google’s ‘Notice And Take Down’ policy, but they were quickly replaced by other pirate links, often with the same exact links.

The BPI alleged that Google is simply not doing enough to combat this ongoing issue, and proposed a ‘Notice And Stay Down’ policy, which prevents the same link for the same site being indexed again.  However, Google is heavily resistant to this move and abruptly concluded that the ‘Take down Stay down’ system is “not a solution and just does not work.”

IFPI says Google is simply not doing enough.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) says that Google is always claiming to help tackle infringement, but they are not showing convincing results.  The IFPI, like the BPI, has sent hundreds of millions of piracy notices to Google as they claim the search engine is supplying links to sites providing copyright infringing music that pay absolutely nothing to artists, songwriters or record producers.

The IFPI says that Google has proclaimed it would take into account the valid copyright removal notices it receives, but unfortunately ”the music industry has seen no demonstrable demotion of sites that receive a high volume of piracy notices”.

Just as we thought the story couldn’t get any worse for Google…

The RIAA rages over Google’s failed attempts to punish pirate sites.

After conducting searches, the ”RIAA previously found that 98% of the music related searches they performed on Google populated pirate sites on the first page”.  From this, the RIAA concluded that Google isn’t giving pirate sites lower rankings as promised.

The RIAA even went to the length of drafting a ‘five-point plan’ for Google and other search engines to fight piracy.  The plan is as follows:

1. Fulfill the admirable promise to demote sites receiving extensive numbers of piracy notices
2. Make sure that the “take down” of a song is meaningful – not repopulated online two seconds later
3. Educate users by identifying authorized sites with a consumer-friendly “icon”
4. Stop leading users to illegal sites through autocomplete
5. Give repeat offender policies some teeth

It’s not just companies and organizations that have had enough of pirated sites on Google, artists are among those that are fighting this battle over their copyrighted content.

Artists Slam Google-owned YouTube.

Artists have been battling with Google for a long time over copyright infringed content on YouTube.  Artists say that the platform devalues their music and that the Content ID system doesn’t work effectively as it requires no proof of copyright ownership.  ContentID is notoriously inaccurate and the dispute process ineffective.

Is Google doing enough to combat this piracy issue?

Well, looking at Q1 this year, it doesn’t seem as though pirated content on the search engine is slowing down.  Google received 213 million requests to remove copyright infringing links in the first 12 weeks of 2016.

This doesn’t necessarily indicate a spike in piracy, as it is most likely due to new automated tools for finding infringing URLs.  But, regardless, it does prove that the DMCA is not dealing with internet piracy effectively.  Chris Ortman, MPAA VP of corporate communications says:

“The large volume of removal requests cited in Google’s Transparency Report clearly illustrates the magnitude of the piracy problem and the ineffectiveness of the ‘notice and take down’ system.”

Cara Duckworth Weiblinger, RIAA’s VP of communications added:

“For content creators everywhere who must work tirelessly to keep illegal copies of their work off the Internet, there must be a better way.”

However, another point to consider here is that there are more people using the internet than ever before, so it is expected that there will be more copyright infringed links available than ever before.  But, the question is whether Google is simply allowing pirate sites to get away with this with a ‘notice and take down’ system that only temporarily removes the infringed content.  

More bluntly, the question is whether Google is really working on new strategies to reduce this major piracy issue, in any meaningful way.  The numbers indicate some crappy results.

36 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    Other search engines pop up with plenty of legally questionable results as well.

    • Charlotte Hassan

      I agree. But, Google being one of the most widely-known is constantly under fire. Here is a summary of what’s been said and done.

        • 1984

          “Other search engines pop up with plenty of legally questionable results as well.”

          On the other hand, if there was more serious competition to Google, they wouldn’t respond by “If you’re not happy with us promoting pirated content over your legitimate content, drop out from our engine and go play elsewhere” , like they did with Getty Images.
          That’s what happens with arrogant monopolies.

          When a company needs to constantly reminds itself “Don’t be evil” , well…

    • Versus

      So they also need to be taken to account. This does not give Google a pass.

  2. DavidB

    When anyone complains about Google’s ineffective action against piracy, they always say how difficult it is to identify a pirate site, and how they can’t just block search results based on probabilities. But when it comes to spammy sites, where it is against Google’s own interests to show results, they cheerfully do what they say is impossible for piracy. See here
    and especially the bit referring to ‘manual action’ against sites with a ‘large fraction’ of spammy content, where ‘taking action on the individual spammy accounts would be impractical’. They will even take action against entire DNS providers if Google thinks they are facilitating spam. So if Google can do this for spam, why not for piracy? Because it is in their own interest to act against spam, but against their own interest to act against piracy. Interestingly, they don’t make a big noise about their anti-spam policies. It is almost impossible to find it by searching within Google’s website’. Maybe someone in their PR department has spotted the inconsistency.

    • Anonymous

      “they always say how difficult it is to identify a pirate site”

      But it is!

      How are they supposed to know that The Pirate Bay isn’t about Pirates of The Caribbean?

      Or do you seriously want to block thousands of perfectly legitimate sites about the Hollywood movies we all love?

      Seriously, here’s a Hypebot-story about what you need in terms of staffs to prevent at least some of Google’s destruction:

      • Troglite

        Is it more difficult than identifying sites that have intentionally created pages that are filled with keywords related to Pirates of the Caribbean when there is no actual content on that topic just to pull-in more traffic? Because Google DOES do that. They do it because its in their best interest to do so. If the search engine results are filled with irrelevant entries, users will stop using it. If users don’t use the search engine, the value and volume of their advertising revenue also go away.

        If a web site provides 100 download links and 99 of them are files that ContentID would successfully match to a copyrighted work, how many of those links should be represented in Google’s search results? All of them? 1?? None???

  3. Louie Futon

    lets not forget how they have ad blockers in their chrome store which directly undermines artist’s ability to monetize their content

  4. MT

    Google is a search and find, not a police and destroy. Why should they be responsible for others actions? What’s next, medical advice? Tax information? The weather report?

    Why not court the artists the way Google does businesses and pay them a penny a click?

  5. fed up with this argument

    From a basic perspective of information science, google is not responsible for the existence of pirated content. get over it. stop blaming the librarian for the books you don’t like and blame the authors. it’s not google’s job to prevent content from existing, nor to pretend that it doesn’t exist. if the court system isn’t agile enough to contend with IP issues take it up with the court. but don’t blame google or search engines for cataloguing content.

    • Anonymous

      I would assert that the act of generating a tracked URL with a corresponding ranking is effectively “generating new content”. They’ve transformed the original content in order to support a different use/purpose. And that use directly benefits the owner of the search engine. The index itself has an independent and unique value than the original work it was derived from. The index and the original content are not the same thing and should not be conflated.

      As others have already noted, Google already filters certain types of content from their indexes. So, its not a matter of IF this is occurring. The real question is how do they decide which content should be filtered and which content should be retained within these indexes.

      Maybe the reason is complexity. That is a common argument from many search engine providers. But, other have raised valid questions about whether pirated video and audio is actually more difficult to filter than other types of content that are actively being removed (like spam and child pornography).

      It seems equally plausible that the reason is grounded in the search engine’s own financial interests. IMHO, its a fair question to ask.. but its also very difficult to answer. Most of the search engines will not only deny that this is their motive… they’ll pull out the “moral hazard” card… which is so nebulous that it can be used to defend almost any action (or inaction).

  6. fed up with this argument

    did you blame maxell for marketing blank tapes?

    • so

      No, but unlike just about everything online, artists get paid for them.

    • N

      I don’t think it’s the same. Google also indexes. If they were to combat this from a different angle, perhaps something that would flag pages based on number of links, amount of words used that may be suspicious (i.e. download, torrent etc.) and set them to be reviewed manually (because we can’t pretend google doesn’t have the resources to afford a new warehouse sized operation designated for people checking this regularly) they could remove the indexing and ultimately either remove the content or make it only deep web.

  7. Anonymous

    How is google profiting from generic search engine cataloging?

    I’m not talking about paid promotion, nor is this sarcastic. It’s a legitimate question.

    • Anonymous

      The process of crawling, indexing, and ranking Web pages is not a source of revenue… it’s a cost/liability to the business. They choose to incur those costs because it allows them to sell advertising as users search the catalog they have built.

      In that regard, it’s misleading to separate the curation of the catalog from the presentation of the catalog. The indexing process is a prerequisite for the advertising business. If the catalog didn’t exist, they would not be able to sell advertisements.

      • Anonymous


        So while it’s difficult to separate the individual components from the big picture, it seems like a bit of a stretch to say Google is directly profiting from illegal file sharing sites. At least from things related within the context of the search engine.


        • Troglite

          No. That would be a step too, far. Or at least misleading. Without the search catalog, there is no Google. Without ad revenue, there is no Google. In fact, Google stole the concept of selling targeted ads based on the search terms the user entered from another search engine company. They settled out of court by making the owner of that company one of Google’s largest share holders. Its that fundamental to the business. Even today, its responsible for the vast majority of Google’s profits.

          A search engine like Google profits both indirectly and directly from pirated content in a number of ways.
          1. By drawing large numbers of users to their search catalog with the intention of finding pirated material. The additional traffic increases the value of each and every ad they sell. Plus, they sell a larger volume of those ads (price per ad and number of ads sold increase).
          2. In addition to the search engine, Google runs an ad network that places and tracks advertisements on 3rd party Web sites. Many sites that offer pirated content use this ad network to monetize their own traffic. Google gets a cut of that revenue.
          3. Google also runs YouTube. It’s a pirate treasure chest.

  8. Anonymous

    Man, I’ve been waiting for that headline…

    Better later than never.

  9. FarePlay

    Charlotte, after a rocky start I’m becoming a fan. This is good timing as I head for NYC to take part in the roundtable discussions, hosted by Maria Pallante and the U.S. Copyright Office.

    These roundtable discussions, also scheduled for Northern California later in the month, deal specifically with the Section 512 takedown provision, which has emerged as the most talked about anti-artist loophole in the DMCA. A loophole that has allowed Google and Google’s YouTube to conduct business in a manner people feel is totally irresponsible and highly detrimental to the entire creative community.

    Join over a thousand other creators and sign the petition asking congress to close the loophole in Section 512 and restore an artists’ right to decide who can use their work on the Internet:

  10. Paul Resnikoff

    It’s amazing. Sitting at the ASCAP Expo yesterday, surrounding by a songwriting and publishing industry that’s getting gutted by Google, YouTube… the internet, I wondered, ‘how did this industry get so destroyed, and let it just happen’?

    Part of me thinks players like Google simply outsmarted the music industry, and that includes effective hearts-and-minds campaigns. Talk to a younger person, and they’re more likely to follow the ‘adapt or die’ innovation in king mentality, with little sympathy of intellectual IP. Big labels, which often encompass publishing, never realized that their horrific images and reputations could be so brutally exercised against them.

    • Troglite

      To a point you made in a previous post.. the steady stream of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt that BOTH Silicon Valley and the traditional “major labels” have steadily fed to BOTH consumers and artists has directly contributed to the “herding cats” challenge that prevents this Industry from organizing an effective response. Many artists are allowing the Fear of Missing Out guide their decisions. Many consumers have developed new habits.. and habits are notoriously hard to change once their established.

  11. Rick Shaw

    This argument is so pathetic. The very core of piracy comes down to personal choice and responsibility. This is not about Google. Grocery stores have lots of food that is out in the open. People have the ability to grab anything and steal it, buy they usually don’t. For whatever reason, probably because digital goods aren’t perceived as having value compared to physical goods, people have little concern stealing them.

    • FarePlay

      Rick, you are right. I found it fascinating that Peter Sunde has a program that has been continually ‘copying’ a song, it may be for years. He has a counter that shows the number of downloads and how much money that represents, if each download had been a purchase.

      Sunde thinks this shows the absurdity of the argument that digital copying is lost revenue, while I look at it and see Sunde’s disconnect with reality. The piracy phenom is no different than the mortgage fraud that took our economy down. They were buying and selling ‘credit default swaps’ which were somehow far removed from conning someone into buying worthless crap.

      There’s a fascinating Ted Talk called ‘our buggy moral code’ that touches on this concept. To Paul’s point. The anonymous, pro-piracy terrorists shut down the conversation over a decade ago. Artists who depend on their fans and insecure by nature were afraid to speak their truth; many still are.

      Things are finally changing because the business is in a death spiral.

      • Hail Satan!

        I have no idea what you are talking about with “Mortgages” or whatever, but you’re delusional of you think that piracy is the same as real world stealing. Sunde’s Machine shows precisely the flaw in that argument – in capitalist economy the scarcity of a product is what gives it value. Because digital products are infinite, they have no value. Do you really think if we could create food from nothing indefinitely with no input cost, there’d still be a market for food? Of course not, that’d be ridiculous, people wouldn’t pay a nickel for something that they could get for free. Why is music any different? The music industry has conned you into believing a song is a tangible product, but it’s not. It’s a piece of art. You know why they don’t charge for photographs of famous paintings? Because the idea of owning a digital copy of anything is rubbish. Does it make me a thief if I save an image of Rembrant’s “The Night Watch”?

        • Is there anybody out there

          Sunde’s machine shows just how disconnected from reality his argument really is.

          If you think that digital bits have no value or scarcity then why nto try copying some bank accounts and see if you don’t wind up doing some time like your hero?

          In the real world, art requires labour and resources to produce. Actual people then experience the art. Some even pay for the privilege.

          But Sunde’s box cuts all of that out of the equation. It’s not connected to anything but itself, meaningless, naïve, devoid of any context and completely dehumanizing.

          Who’s really been conned here?

          No one is listening.

  12. Hail Satan!

    Ew. Anyone who still thinks piracy is wrong can go suck on a bible for all their high-horse moralizing. Just look at these companies, whining about how their stranglehold on art is being challenged. Newsflash for you parasites – if these people truly cared about their art, they’d be doing it for free in between a real job. Trust our over-bearing corporate nanny-state to remove our rights to decide what we pay for ourselves. Why don’t they just give us a music tax and provide some governmentally approved music themselves eh, if they hate piracy so much? Screw that, why not just skip the money phase and reward our work with their own government entertainment? Exactly, it’s a stupid idea. But still, the “Music industry” tries to shove these communist measures down our throats out of the idea that they somehow have the right to make money. Bollocks to that – I say get back to true capitalism. The government, google, and everyone else should leave these companies to the mercy of the free market. If you disagree with piracy, you can go suck on Lenin’s pickled cock for all I care, you dirty communists.

    • Is there anybody out there

      In capitalism, the seller, in this case the artists would decide when and how to market their product and which places it would be made available.

      It is not your prerogative to decide that for them. That’s actually a very anti-capitalstic, authoritarian stance.

      But since you don’t think being an artist is a ‘real’ job, it’s obvious that you have no clue as to what you’re talking about.

        • Is there anybody out there

          This legislation from the 90s was put in place to exempt personal, not for profit duplication from action on the basis of infrinngement. Mass distribution of infringing material by a mega-corporation is another story entirely.

          • Anonymous

            Yes, but included was also a tax/royalty placed on audio equipment and media. It never amounted to much, and how that money is really distributed probably involves some fuzzy math. Still it exists.

            Maybe it’s implementation and distribution was poor, but the concept is interesting.

  13. james

    Tom yorke was right!

    and google do not even pay their fair share of taxes.

    what gets my goat is that dmca helps portect google and makes it possible for them to carry on making ad money on youtube from stolen work over and over again.

    • Anonymous

      Apple is one of the biggest tax dodgers in the tech industry. Maybe the biggest.

  14. Sarah

    well if you want to protect your content from piracy use anti-pirate.
    My publisher use Link-Busters to protect my books, and I am very happy, so is my agent. everyone win, except pirates…