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Why does Google list illegal links?

Posted by Red Points on Friday, Mar 17, 2017


We look at the link between Google search and piracy, and evaluate copyright infringement takedown processes on Google search, Youtube, Facebook and the web overall.


While Google may list illegal links, the listing of them is not an illegal act. Just like websites and apps such as Popcorn Time and Kodi that are used for illegal - and external - streaming, Google isn’t breaking US copyright laws because it does not host copyrighted content, but instead merely indexes it in its search results. This highlights the legally ‘grey’ area of hyperlinking, which is arguably changing as a result of legal actions against piracy.

However, it is evidenced in Google’s own transparency reports showing copyright removal requests that an enormous amount of people use the search engine to gain access to copyright-infringing material, such as movie streams. In the last year alone almost 1 billion infringing URLs were removed from the search engine. As recent research on the effectiveness of infringement notices has highlighted that a major factor in viewing copyrighted content is hinged on the ‘ease of access’ to it on the web, the question is does Google do enough to fight piracy?

<<Free Ebook: Millennials and Piracy trends>>


How Google responds publically to Piracy issues

In a response to pressure exerted on the search engine by various rights holders, Google periodically releases reports on How Google Fights Piracy. Google's policy complies with that of the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act). Enacted in 1998, the DMCA ruled that if an ISP is hosting infringing content, while it is not liable for the material, following a notice of infringement it must remove it.

Google similarly asks copyright owners to file a notice of infringement if they find a content infringement indexed on the search engine. Google will then remove the infringing material and notify the owner of the affected domain. The alleged infringer can then respond with a counter notification if they believe they hold rights to that material or that it complies with the US 'fair use' policy. This policy covers copyrighted content that is legally used without permission of the owner due to its use and purpose. For example, an image or clip from a movie may be reproduced fairly in a review of that movie.

How to remove infringing content from Google web search

In order to remove your own infringed content from Google web search, first ensure that the content is not regarded as ‘fair use’. If the alleged infringer files a counter notice that outlines their right to reproduce protected content, you could be liable for costly legal damages. Once you have determined the infringement, fill in this form to submit to Google. The form asks you to describe and prove infringement, and allows you to submit multiple examples of infringement and infringed content simultaneously.

Within a code of practice enacted by both Google and Bing, a recent agreement will demote frequently-reported domains, redefining how search engines interact with copyright law. Thus websites that actually host movie streams are usually not found via Google search, but instead through another indexing website that links to copyrighted content without risking its own legitimacy.

Google’s Content ID system on Youtube has also been successful in detecting and removing infringing content, as well as in allowing content owners to capitalise on content generating over $1 billion in revenue payments. The system has inspired a similar automation-detection process of videos on Facebook, despite the widespread criticism of Content ID from Youtube channels who comply with ‘fair use’ policy and have their content removed regardless.

Long-term solutions to removing copyright-infringing content

It is clear that an automated system is necessary in detecting and removing the masses of copyright-infringing content that is available on the web. However, the technical system must be refined to target specific types of sites in order not to conflict with ‘fair use’ policy and incur counter notices. The problem of protecting IP in a digital environment is clear from the polemic responses received by consumers and media companies to any changes; consumers want on-demand access to cheap content without borders, an expectation driven by streaming services like Netflix which could be making piracy worse. Expert knowledge into how digital pirates operate will be exceedingly beneficial in developing a systematic response.

From piracy apps like Popcorn Time and streaming boxes like Kodi and Roku to pirate messaging groups on Telegram, it's clear that as ‘digital natives’ are advancing, piracy methods are becoming more evolved and more resistant to legal action.

Social media sharing, streaming and geoblocking are all becoming more commonplace in digital piracy, replacing clearly-infringing torrents with legal grey areas which may be more difficult to launch a strategy against. Therefore solutions must be tailored toward changing trends and attitudes to piracy, with a view of influencing the digital generation to generate a significant impact.

In this respect a level of industry awareness is of paramount importance, but where this expertise can be supported by learning technology, such as in the Red Points anti-piracy solution, a strategy will prove most effective in terms of limiting access to infringing content. To learn more about how piracy is changing with a new generation, take a look at our eBook:

Millennials and piracy ebook

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Red Points

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Red Points is the smart and technological solution against online counterfeit, brand abuse and digital piracy