Google has routinely emphasized its efforts to delist links to content it considers pirated over the past ten years. Since the reporting began, requests to remove content from its search results recently reached an unprecedented milestone, passing the six-billion mark.
The search giant has granted the request to remove billions of results linking to pirated materials after a careful review of their validity. This highlights the company’s strong will to cooperate with copyright holders. Hence, Google is working with content owners to blacklist rights-infringing websites before its algorithms can even index them.
Policy on copyright infringement
“Google’s efforts to be more open about takedowns in the last ten years were meant to help inform policy decisions as the Internet develops,” Fred von Lohmann, said in a 2012’s blog post.
As outlined on its Transparency Report page, Google’s policy on copyright infringement is consistent with the well-known Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). If there are no issues, they will delete/delist the allegedly pirated content from its search results after receiving a takedown notice from any copyright owner.
“We hope these data will add to the conversation as internet users and policymakers globally weigh the pros and cons of various solutions to the issue of online copyright infringement,” said Lohmann.
The request for Google to comment on the policy impacts of its transparency reports was not immediately responded to.
The anti-piracy mission does not start today
Google’s gradual transformation into a leader in the fight against piracy began to ramp up in 1998. The Federal Communications Commission at the time granted online service providers like Google safe harbor, protecting them from claims of copyright infringement involving content from third parties, with the stipulation that the providers should disclose information on any users who may have violated any laws.
However, it appeared that Google wasn’t doing enough a decade later, and the FCC again stepped in, reacting to news publishers criticizing Google and others.
Publishers at the time claimed that service providers were making money off ads placed next to links from scrapers and aggregators, accused of grabbing and republishing news content without authorization.
Google pledged to make it simpler for copyright holders to flag illegal content in search results. In 2010, the company released its first transparency report, but it only contained data on government takedown requests.
Google updated its report two years later, “offering information about who sends us copyright delisting messages, how frequent, on behalf of which copyright owners and for which sites,” and “counting every delisting notice received.”
400 domains responsible for nearly half of Google’s entire delisting activity
We can say that an insignificant number of rights holders are responsible for a disproportionate number of takedown requests. Nearly 2.5 billion URLs, or more than 40% of all inquiries, have been reported by the top ten (10) organizations.
Similar to what we previously mentioned, a few websites are home to most of the removed URLs. It’s also interesting to note that only 400 domains account for 41% of Google’s whole delisting activity. In other words, roughly half of the takedowns occur on sites like The Pirate Bay and others that frequently carry illegal content.
Apart from glaring false positives like the websites of the FBI, The White House, Netflix, Disney, and other organizations, delisting requests filed to Google have also identified dedicated pirate servers.
While Google continues to delist over a million URLs daily, the trend began to shift a few years ago. The rate at which new links were reported began to decline.
Similarly, Google also began to work with rights holders more closely. For instance, Google started to accept delisting requests for links that the search engine had not yet indexed. These links numbering in the billions are on a preemptive block list.
In 2018, Google decided to take things further by developing a preemptive block list. The proactive blocklist prevents URLs that violate copyright from being indexed in search results.
These links are among the 6 billion delisted URLs that Google lists as of this writing. Free “access to information” was a significant concern, but it is now simply a brief footnote on the content delisting page.
The information there “helps shape global discussions on how copyright affects access to information.” Google explained that “discussions with regulators worldwide on how to best combat online piracy and link users with legitimate material” are still ongoing.”
There were 333,253 requests from organizations acting on behalf of its rights-holding customers
According to ‘Torrent Freak’, 326,575 copyright holders identified 4,043,339 separate top-level domains, adding up to 6,006,830,816 billion takedowns since 2012.
But not all reports were valid. Torrent Freak itself was counted among “false positive” reported domains, along with “websites of the White House, the FBI, Disney, Netflix, and the New York Times.”
It’s a milestone that Torrent Freak suggested shows that “while copyright infringement can’t be eradicated outright, Google is slowly but steadily presenting itself as a willing partner in the anti-piracy fight.”
Google also actively demotes pirate sites in its search results when it receives an unusually high number of takedown requests for a domain. In addition, the search engine voluntarily complied with third-party site-blocking orders by removing entire domain names from its index.
These proactive anti-piracy measures have started to improve the relationship between Google and its rights holders.
For the first time, YouTube opened up its copyright removal books in 2021, showing that its Content ID system processed almost 1.5 billion claims in a year. How those numbers will evolve has yet to be seen.