UK Government To Inspect Google's Failed Downranking of 'Pirate' Sites

Despite Google's removing millions of links to allegedly infringing content every week, the content industries still aren't happy.

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After mounting pressure from international rightsholders, in August Google finally caved in and said it would start making 'pirate' sites more difficult for its users to find, reports Torrentfreak.

But three months on and despite removing millions of links to allegedly infringing content every week, the content industries still aren't happy. In the face of Google's apparent inability to hide online piracy from its users, the search engine faces the specter of legislation forcing it to do so.

In recent years entertainment companies have been placing increasing pressure on search engines that link to sites that facilitate copyright infringement. In August that lobbying appeared to start paying off.

Google announced that it would begin taking into consideration the number of DMCA takedown notices it receives against domains when it determines how high to place them in search results.

"Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results," Google's Amit Singhal explained.

Within a week the first signs of the new policy appeared to be visible. Tests carried out by TorrentFreak for the popular movie The Dictator yielded results that no longer included sites such as The Pirate Bay, KickassTorrents and isoHunt.

But now, three months later, the entertainment companies still aren't happy. According to The Guardian, the UK government will review Google's promise to kick unauthorized media sites down its rankings after it was accused of still not doing enough.

The government threatening to become involved again will be unwelcome news. Last year it issued a private warning to Google that failure to comply could result in legislation that would force the search engine into action.

To see how Google is actually doing today, TorrentFreak re-ran their tests on The Dictator, searching for "The Dictator Download" just as they did before. As can be seen from the screenshot below, all the previously disappeared torrent sites are now back including isoHunt, The Pirate Bay and KickassTorrents.

Change the search to "The Dictator Torrent" and every single link on the first page of results links to pages on torrent sites indexing unauthorized copies, a situation that appears completely unchanged from that of three months ago.

Of course, movies are only part of the equation and it appears that when it comes to mainstream rightsholders, music is the content most likely to be targeted with a Google takedown. One of the most targeted domains in this respect is FilesTube, a cyberlocker search engine that hosts zero content of its own.

To see the effect on FilesTube we searched for the top two most popular artists in the US right now according to LastFM Radiohead and Kanye West.

Of the first 10 results for "Radiohead download" only two were obviously infringing. The first was for BeeMP3, the 11th most-complained-about site to Google. The second referenced MP3Lemon, currently the 273rd most-complained-about site.

The first 10 results for Kanye West produced three obviously infringing links, including one from MP3Skull right at the very top. MP3Skull is currently the 23rd most-complained-about domain when it comes to DMCAs sent to Google. A result from KickassTorrents (7th place for DMCAs with Google) was placed two positions above an official iTunes download.

However, in both instances if the search is switched to "Radiohead mp3" and "Kanye West mp3″, all first page results (apart from two for Radiohead) appear to be infringing.

But despite these results, could Google be keeping to its word? When it comes to music searches (at least when they don't include the words "torrent" or "mp3″) it may well be. The most-complained-about domains seem to appear in the first few results less often than other lower profile ones.

If this is indeed a result of changes by Google, these lesser-known sites will be very grateful for the boost. What this also shows is that demoting certain sites effectively promotes others, shifting piracy around and doing little to stop it.

For its part, Google insists it is doing what it can to push sites with high numbers of removal notices down the rankings. The BPI, a major sender of DMCA takedowns to Google, still aren't happy.

"Google said it would stop putting the worst pirate sites at the top of search results. Google's transparency report shows they know clearly which are most infringing domains," said Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the BPI.

"Yet three months into the much-vaunted algorithm change, many of these illegal sites are still dominating search results for music downloads. We are talking to Google to try to establish why this is the case."

In the meantime it would be interesting to discover if the amount of time and money invested by the labels into having content taken down is being matched by their efforts to improve their own SEO. If so-called 'pirate sites' can make it to the top of the rankings with their comparatively limited resources, why can't the giants of the music industry do the same without Google's help?

14 comments sorted by best / new / date

    You can't stop piracy by blocking websites. It's just something that will always occur. People will always share music, be it through the internet or by borrowing a mates CD and copying it to your PC. I'd rather focus on changing peoples views on the value of (good) music. Most people I know download their music because "the artists are already rich, why should I buy their music?". They assume that is also the case for artists outside the charts...
    Fight against piracy has been going for like almost 10 years? Mayby even more. How much they have achieved with this? None How much money they have "wasted" on this? shitloads I agree that piracy is wrong, even tho i have done it few times too. But this is just wasting money. Use it on something else. They banned, what that did? It spawned
    In my observation, there's two kinds of people that pirate: those that do it because they can, and those that do it because it's cheaper OR because it's more easily available that way. The problem is NOT the first group, because you'll never truly stamp out people who wont follow laws. The problem is the persuading the second group from piracy, because many might stay legal consumers. That could turn losses from piracy AND litigation expenses, and turn them into profits. If the world was fair, content companies would look themselves in the mirror, re-evaluate their policies on things such as DRM and location-restrictions, and figure out how to make distribution more equitable and cost effective for both companies and consumers . However, the world is not fair.
    One of the founding ideas of the PageRank algorithm is that pages which are visited more often appear higher in the results. If you want to illegally download a song and google "Song Name Download" then click a link to a pirate site that will move that site up the rankings. All that has been proven in the last months is that people searching "band name mp3" are often looking for an illegal download.
    All this goes to show is the entertainment industry has NO idea how the internet works. Google were HELPING them in the only way they can, they are a search engine, they have little control over what gets displayed upon a keyword search. This works by sending "Spiders" out across the internet to track sites. They did what they could by downgrading sites with multiple infringements reported to them, but in the long run this will do nothing to deter someone after their illegal files. Rather than bitch and moan at google for not helping enough, they should just try and find out a better way to deal with it.
    Filesharing is only illegal if you try to sell it... personal use is fair use.
    If you download something for free from an illegal source, it's not suddenly legal. You're depriving the rights holders from income they would otherwise get. It's not like music is that expensive anyway; You can get cds for $5-10 on-line and spotify etc. and youtube are free and generate some revenue at least.
    Did I ever say I got it from an illegal source? The statement stands for itself. I pay for music when I can afford it, artists make most of their money in merchandise and shows anyway. Many people unfortunately download things, legally or illegally, and even when you buy a CD from a store, they make more of a profit than the artist. The artists sell CDs to stores, who then raise the price and sell to consumers. Don't think I don't know how this works, I go to concerts and buy merch when I can. There have been several artists(Dave matthews for example) who encourage people to download their material for free so as to expand fanbases quickly, and then they will buy tickets to their shows. When CDs are sold, the profit goes to mostly the record label(if they have one), retail stores and whoever else is selling them. I'm not saying I approve of downloading music, but it's happening so rapidly I cannot see how to resolve the issue.
    Yeah, I usually try and buy CDs direct from the Artist's merch store... usually the lowest prices and the most money in their pockets. File-sharing is technically not illegal, but sharing copyrighted material for free or profit is.
    Google is bigger than the UK government. England's govt. is also retarded for thinking that google won't do what it was invented to do - it doesn't matter if they facilitate piracy or not, it's always about people's usage. I'm sick of my own country and glad to be in the USA right now.
    link no1
    I never searched for songs via google, I just went straight to the piratebay so I personally can't see forcing google to take action helping all that much...assuming most people do the same anyway.
    Well if you search for a torrent... you're going to get links to a torrent site. The main thing they've achieved is taking out illegal downloads from an innocent search such that people are directed to legal options, but if people are specifically looking for torrents, they will find them. What other search results will come up?