Google Tackles Online Piracy

23 Oct 2014

Online Piracy

Extended pirate metaphor aside, Piracy is a serious online issue which is threatening and infringing upon creative copyright. Despite additional services which allow users to stream content such as Spotify, Google Music, Amazon Instant and Netflix, piracy is still widespread with people preferring to download for free, rather purchase or pay to stream.

Piracy isn’t a new phenomenon, but with the rise of mobile technology and high speed internet, the world is a faster paced; people want to see the latest films now, or listen to Taylor Swifts new album immediately. Social media and other online platforms have forced production houses to move towards worldwide releases, or risk losing money to piracy.

What is Google going to do?

Downgrade Illegal Sites

In situations like this people turn to Google. Some people forget, some people don’t know, but Google is not the internet and the internet is not Google. As Google itself stated, “Search engines do not control what is on the web”. Search engines do not have the power or ability to remove sites from the internet. They do have the ability to remove search results from Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

That is exactly what Google has announced in its new Pirate 2 Algorithm. Following on from Penguin and Panda’s filter systems, Pirate 2 will process sites through a filter and subsequently downgrade any sites which contain copyrighted material. Boom: no piracy sites appearing on SERPs. Haul anchor.

In 2012 Google released Pirate (first edition) in which all sites were run through this anti-piracy filter. Pirate 2 is effectively a rerun, enabling sites which have cleaned up their act to reenter Google results, and allowing Google to weed out any new piracy sites and remove them. The question is, why has is taken Google two years to rerun the filter? Should this be a yearly, or even monthly thing?

Knowledge Graph Updates

Pirate 2 also includes updates to the Knowledge Graph. Search for a movie, album for TV show and the sidebar displays information; cast members, track listings, release dates etc. But, under Pirate 2, legitimate and legal sites or services such as Netflix or Google Play will be listed with links to buy content. Google have been trialling this for a while, but now it’s officially part of Google’s anti-pirate drive.

New Display Ads

SEO and PPC combine in Google’s newest attempt to thwart online piracy. New display ads which sit at the top of the SERP, above the search results aim to drive users to the legitimate content. Paid search is a very effective way to beat the search results and ensure that your site is at the top of the first page of results every time, but this does mean that the legal and legit sites are required to pay for the privilege. This seems more like finding a way round piracy rather than dealing with the problem, but dealing with the issue isn’t necessarily Google’s prerogative.

Google Autocomplete

Lastly, Google has announced changes to its Autocomplete, the feature which provides suggested search terms according to what you’re typing. Under Pirate 2, Google will favour Autocomplete terms which generate results listing which include fewer copyrighted complaints. Autocomplete will favour search terms which result in legal sites appearing rather than piracy sites.

Is this enough to tackle online piracy?

After being criticised for not doing enough to tackle Piracy online, Google has respondedwith this four pronged approach to keep the pirates at bay. However how much impact these updates will have is questionable.

The fact remains that piracy sites exist not through search and good SEO practice, but by word of mouth and social media. Search via the three major search engines (Google, Bing and Yahoo) combined contributed just 16% to the overall traffic to copyright infringing sites. Google can remove sites from listings, place links to streaming services on SERPs, and edit Autocomplete, but ultimately people will find their way if they want.

In the end as long as there are people who are happy to download content for free, piracy will exist and there’s not much Google can really do about that.