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Andy Betts
M Posted 9 years ago
t 3 min read

The entertainment industry has been fighting piracy for years. Still today, we’re served some pretty serious warnings when watching movies that Interpol (yes, the world police) will come for anyone who dares to make a copy of that movie. With search engines being ripe for picking up free (aka “pirated”) movies and music, Google wants to be sure it stays on the good side of major entertainment groups. Enter Google’s “Pirate” update.

The Google Pirate update was announced in 2012 as a new signal in Google’s rankings algorithm aimed at demoting sites in the results that have a large number of valid copyright removal notices. In late October, Google announced it would be releasting a new version of the Google Pirate update. Search Engine Land speculated that this was in response to a spat over piracy between Google and media giant News Corp. Check out the full list of Google algorithm updates since 2011 here.

The Google stance on piracy

Google stated with the latest release (which rolled out in October) that it refined its piracy signal to “visibly affect the rankings of some of the most notorious sites” (referring to sites that receive a large number of valid copyright infringements under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA). Other steps Google took with its latest release is deleting autocomplete suggestions that return results with DMCA-demoted sites, and highlighting other areas of its search engine results page with legitimate content for what could be illegitimate searches. For example, if someone searches for “[movie/music name] free download,” they might be served with a couple new features in the search results:

  1. Ads that show up for legitimate content for that movie or music
  2. A sidebar with information on how to purchase, listen or watch legitimate content for that movie or music

Here’s an example of both, courtesy of Google’s announcement. First, an advertisement may pop up when queries for movies include terms like “download,” “free” or “watch”.

And here is an example of sidebar info on Google that could pop up for similar queries. A guide to the Google Pirate Update - BrightEdgeSo what can you do about it?

If you’re in the entertainment industry and offering legitimate content, things may be a little harder for those on the other side. At, a site that shares information related to copyrights and file-sharing, reports state that organic traffic has been severely impacted for many of the file-sharing sites that Google Pirate was aimed at. Of course, all Google can do at this time is demote rankings and control the way its results are displayed. This update does nothing for people finding those files though other means.

Still, Google is quick to point out its response rate for legitimate take-down requests, and its thin tolerance for these types of sites in its latest “How Google Fights Piracy ” report:

  • In 2013 we received just over 224 million DMCA requests for Google Search results.
  • We ultimately removed 222M, which means we rejected or reinstated less than 1% after review because we either needed additional information, were unable to find the page, or concluded that the material was not infringing; and
  • Our average turnaround time for copyright notices remains less than 6 hours.

Of course, if you’re really serious about being a part of the solution, you can always do what Disney did and invent technology to address piracy. Recent reports show that Disney registered a patent for piracy-free search, which when used, would only surface legitimate content owned by the entertainment group.