Google continues to face criticism for its efforts in fighting online piracy. Pressure is building on Google to do more to protect the work and revenues of its copyright holders. Questions are growing if Google is really doing enough to help protect the film and media industry?
Earlier this year Google released an updated version of the How Google Fights Piracy report. The report outlined the policies and technologies in place to stop the infringement of creative materials through Google’s services including Youtube, Google Search and Google Play. The report claims:
“Google takes the challenge of online piracy seriously - we continue to invest significant resources in the development of tools to report and manage copyrighted content, and we work with other industry leaders to set the standard for how tech companies fight piracy”.
Through Youtube, which it acquired in 2006, Google claims to be empowering millions to create, share and broadcast videos while still generating revenue for content creators - according to the report Youtube has to date paid out $3 billion to the music industry. In addition the company has made a multimillion dollar investment in a Content ID system, which is designed to help copyright owners identify and manage their content on Youtube, has also generated up to $2 billion for partners since its launch. With access to a database of more than 50 million reference files of copyrighted material, uploaded videos are compared against this legitimate database and copyright holders are notified where there is a match This allows them to then track, remove or monetize the content. According to Google’s report, so far 8,000 rights holders have used this system to manage their content while 90% have chosen to monetize videos containing copyrighted material - a process from which Google also profits and has given rise to creative partners such as Squaredpoints.
Other efforts demonstrated by Google include following the money to fight online piracy Stating that one of the ‘most effective ways to combat rogue sites that specialize in online piracy is to cut off their money supply’, Google claims to focus on identifying sites that profit from piracy and refusing them advertising revenues, adding:
“Google is a leader in rooting out and ejecting rogue sites from our advertising and payment services, and we help establish best practices across the industry.”
Between September 2015 and March 2016, Google’s premium advertising service Google AdWords has rejected 670,000 ads - and blacklisted a further 91,000 sites from AdSense since 2012.
Google Search however is one area of the enterprise which is continuously under fire and the major cause of complaint for content owners. Google’s most recent report states that it helps ‘more than a billion people worldwide find licensed copies of content’. The problem however is that Google’s search engine also can in some cases lead users to sites which include links to infringed material. This is not a problem specific to Google, in fact many search engines are under pressure to prevent results which link to third party sites such as those fostering illegal TV and movie streaming. But with more than 3.5 billion searches made each day on Google Search, it is the most widely-used search engine in the world so many feel that it should be leading the way and doing more to prevent piracy.
Google claims to be making a significant effort to prevent infringed material appearing in its search results through a 3 step approach involving: returning ‘clean’ results that only include legitimate sites, cooperating with content owners to address those problematic links which do appear and process removal requests - also known as takedown requests, and finally to provide legitimate alternatives to users. However the sheer number of takedown requests, which is increasing year on year, demonstrates the volume of disputed links making it past Google’s engineers in the first place. In 2014, Google received more than 345 million takedown requests. By the following year this figure had jumped to 558 million takedown requests against allegedly unauthorised use of content. According to the report released earlier this year:
“Google removed 98% of these webpages upon review; the remaining 11 million webpages were rejected or reinstated because we either needed additional information, were unable to find the page, or concluded that the material was not infringing”.
These figures show just how much the creative industries are relying on Google to protect their work, particularly in music, TV and film. Some of the biggest studios in Hollywood are pressuring Google to remove torrent sites and indeed streaming is responsible for a large number of Google’s illegal links. Key figures and organisations in the music industry have also expressed disappointment and frustration at the company's attempts to prevent and fight piracy. This year's Google piracy report was criticised by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), which represents the UK’s recorded music artists, which stated that Google is "still one of the key enablers of piracy on the planet". The BPI further described the Content ID system as "ineffective" as said that the company had the resources to do more.
Google states that it will continue to improve its ability to receive requests and the speed at which it can process content removal. In addition to this the company claims it will refine its DMCA demotion measures which had a dramatic impact on pirate sites and caused a noticeable drop in search traffic upon the initial implementation of this strategy.
While the impact of these measures demonstrate Google’s powers and abilities in tackling online piracy, and there is no doubt that Google could do more, the global scale of the problem means that it is a battle which cannot be fought alone. In order to address both supply and demand, a collaborative effort is required between copyright owners, governments, internet service providers and hosts, and online advertisers. One of the reason for rising takedown requests to Google is the increase in effectiveness of anti-piracy technology. Many companies are choosing to automize their processes to great effect, while this is only possible with the cooperation of Google. Pressure will continue to mount on the tech giant as piracy remains at large, however it's clear that the company is taking serious steps to combat piracy.