×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

In Piracy War, Google Seen as Unwilling Ally

Media firms gripe that the search engine remains rife with illicit links

Google styles itself as the apolitical digital librarian of the Internet age — simply connecting people to information they’re seeking. But owners of intellectual property say the search leader isn’t doing enough to curb the growing hordes of pirates stealing their content.

Last August, Google disclosed a change in how its search engine would operate: Sites with a high number of copyright-removal complaints would be ranked lower than those with fewer grievances against them. Theoretically, that would make piracy websites harder to find.

Hollywood and other content industries cautiously cheered the Internet giant’s plan, hopeful that a shift in the way billions of people worldwide find material online would help turn the tide in the sea of illegal activity.

SEE MORE: View All Stories from Our Special Report on Google

But nearly a year later, virtually nothing has changed, according to execs in the media biz — with the same repeat infringers still showing up high in Google’s results.

Yet other companies that intersect with what might be termed “the pirate economy” have made tangible advances in the past year toward starving rogue websites, said Rick Cotton, NBCUniversal’s exec VP and general counsel. Those include payment processors, ad networks and Internet service providers.

By comparison, Google hasn’t made the same kind of progress on search. “The search sector is the furthest behind by far” in addressing piracy, Cotton said. “For legitimate sites to flourish, the ecosystem has to make those easier to find than illegitimate content.”

SEE MORE: Google’s Clout on Capitol Hill Concerns Hollywood

The Motion Picture Assn. of America similarly said it’s seen very little meaningful difference in Google’s search results, with pirate sites generating new links once those flagged as illegal are removed. “Google’s domination of the search market means that consumers need to be able to rely on it to return legitimate results,” a spokeswoman said.

But Google says that completely blocking sites from its index — even those known to traffic in illegal content, like the Pirate Bay or isoHunt — is not the answer to piracy. Even for sites with a large number of removal requests, links to alleged illegal content account for less than 1% of the total pages, the company claims. Blacklisting them would punish them for only a small amount of piracy.

In addition, Google maintains that copyright owners already have powers nobody else is afforded: effectively a lineitem veto removing any search result they don’t like. The company says it responds in less than eight hours to those takedown requests. Moreover, for “clean” searches (that is, queries that don’t intentionally seek out pirated content with verbiage that includes the words “watch free”), Google says the demotion program is in fact working as advertised.

Google argues that it’s attacking piracy where it counts — cutting off advertising money to such sites. The company says its DoubleClick ad network unit has a policy of shunning rogue operators.

Finally, Google says it’s helping rights-holders with YouTube’s Content ID system, which lets content owners opt to place ads against user-uploaded material instead of blocking it.

“Google has taken a leadership role in partnering with the industry to cut off the flow of money to piracy sites, and has invested heavily in copyright tools for content owners,” the company said in a statement. “In addition, Google’s growing partnerships and distribution deals with the content industry benefit both creators and users, and generate hundreds of millions of dollars for the industry each year.”

None of that, however, mollifies entertainment industry execs who want to see Google take a forceful stand on search technology in eliminating pirates.

“Plainly, Google can and should develop and implement stronger filters,” said Miles Feldman, an IP attorney with Raines Feldman, whose clients include Hollywood studios.

While he acknowledged that there appear to have been incremental improvements in Google searches for popular media, Feldman said the difference is “not nearly enough.”

Related Stories: Special Report on Google

More Biz

  • Young ThugBillboard Hot 100, Day 2,

    Travis Scott Remix Drives Young Thug’s ‘Hot’ to No. 1 on Rolling Stone Top 100

    Driven by a remix featuring Travis Scott, Young Thug’s single “Hot” has roared to the top of the Rolling Stone Top 100 this week. The song racked up more than 20 million audio streams and 3,700 downloads. Also getting a big boost is buzzing artist Arizona Zervas, whose “Roxanne” soared to No. 6 after debuting at [...]

  • Kevin LilesUJA-Federation of New York's Music

    300’s Kevin Liles Joins NY:LON Summit Keynote Roster

    The Music Business Association (Music Biz) and Music Ally today announce that 300 Entertainment cofounder and CEO Kevin Liles will deliver a keynote interview at the fourth annual NY:LON Connect music business summit. The conference takes place January 16 – 17, 2020 at the Dream Downtown Hotel in New York. According to the announcement, Liles [...]

  • Warner Bros. HQ LA

    Small Brush Fire Breaks Out Above Warner Bros. Lot in Burbank

    UPDATED: A small brush fire broke out in the Hollywood Hills above the Warner Bros. studio lot in Burbank, Calif., causing the Warner Bros. lot to evacuate as a precaution, before its forward progress was stopped at around 5 p.m. Saturday. According to the LAFD, fire crews are working on putting out the “still active [...]

  • Woody Allen

    Woody Allen Settles $68 Million Suit Against Amazon

    Woody Allen has settled his breach of contract lawsuit against Amazon, which canceled a four-picture deal with the filmmaker amid the #MeToo movement. Allen’s attorneys and lawyers for Amazon filed a joint notice dismissing the case on Friday night. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. Allen filed suit in February, alleging that Amazon had [...]

  • Scott Stuber, Ron Howard are seen

    Netflix's Scott Stuber: Film Biz Needs to 'Be Calm and Talk Through' Exhibition Disputes

    Netflix film chief Scott Stuber urged film producers and exhibitors to come together to reach a consensus on exhibition window disputes as Netflix and other streaming giants move forcefully into feature production. Stuber, Netflix’s VP of film, spoke Saturday morning at the Producers Guild of America’s Produced By NY conference in a wide-ranging Q&A with [...]

  • Donald Trump Hollywood Racism

    President Trump Bashes Report of Talks With Mark Burnett for New 'Apprentice' Series

    President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Saturday morning to blast as “fake news” a report earlier this week that he is planning to develop a TV series with “The Apprentice” creator Mark Burnett following his time in the White House. On Thursday, the Daily Beast reported that Trump has been talking to Burnett, a [...]

  • BMG Music

    BMG Announces Move to Bigger Digs in L.A., Following Nashville and NYC Relocations

    Less than two months after announcing a planned move to a bigger and better facility in Nashville, BMG has declared plans to do the same in Los Angeles, with a deal in place to develop a two-story, 30,000-square-foot facility in the Miracle Mile district. It won’t be a long move: the location for the “proposed” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content