Netflix’s “House of Cards” season 2 has already been pilfered by Internet pirates — and a certain Google search for the buzzy political thriller currently surface links to illicit streaming websites, before a link to Netflix’s own website.
In a Google search for “Watch House of Cards” on Wednesday, the top two results were links to apparent pirate sites, couchtuner.eu and stream-tv.me; Netflix showed up third. WebProNews reported on the Google search results for “HoC” earlier, and found similar results for searches on other Netflix content including “Orange Is the New Black,” “Arrested Development,” “Lilyhammer” and “Derek.”
It’s worth noting that a Google search for “House of Cards” alone — which is far more common than “Watch House of Cards,” according to Google search-trend data — resulted in all legit links on the first page, with only IMDb and Wikipedia entries showing up before Netflix.
[UPDATE: As of Friday, Feb. 21, the two sites in question, couchtuner.eu and stream-tv.me, were expunged from Google's search results for the phrase "Watch House of Cards" -- with Netflix.com now the No. 1 link.]
At least two links on the sites from the “Watch House of Cards” search led to videos that began streaming episodes from season 2, without any additional download or setup needed. One of the videos bore the watermark of Sohu.com, the Chinese web portal that acquired streaming rights for “House of Cards” season 2 in the country.
Netflix did not respond to a request for comment.
Asked to respond, Google reps did not specifically provide comment on the “House of Cards” issue. But the company has previously outlined the numerous ways in which it fights piracy. For example, Google in 2012 disabled ad services to more than 46,000 sites for violating copyright policies, according to the company. Google also said its average turnaround time in responding to removal notices from copyright holders is less than 6 hours, with requests made for about 57 million web pages in 2012.
Here is an image of the Google search results for “Watch House of Cards”:
The presence of illegal streaming sites at the top of the results for “Watch House of Cards” is a source of concern for Netflix. By contrast, Google searches for “Watch Game of Thrones” or “Watch Homeland” return as the No. 1 result the websites of HBO and Showtime Networks, respectively. That said, links to pirate sites appear on those search results pages as well.
Movie studios and TV networks (among other content industries) have long complained that Google has the ability to demote or even blacklist piracy websites in its search engine, but that the company declines to do so. In 2012, Google announced a program under which sites with a large number of copyright-removal complaints would be ranked lower. But content companies allege that in practice, nothing has changed.
As for why websites would find it worthwhile to pirate Netflix’s content — given the relatively affordable $7.99 monthly price for the service — the impetus may be that the content is not legally available everywhere in the world. Netflix has said it plans an aggressive expansion in Europe this year; today, it is absent from large countries including France, Germany and Italy. Nor does it have a presence in Asia.
Piracy websites generated $227 million in advertising revenue in 2013, with the 30 biggest ad-supported sites earning an average of $4.4 million annually, according to a report from the Digital Citizens Alliance released this week.