Whether you search for pirated content or not, you probably have come accross this result on Google sometime in the past few months. It states, that one or more of the results in the Google index for your keyword search has been taken down due to a notice of copyright infringement.
These results have probably originally linked to a websites that shared pirated content, as do for example cyberlockers (e.g. rapidshare). Under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, in order to not being held accountable for linking to the copyrighted material, the search engine has to remove the hyperlink from their search results when asked to by the copyright holder. However, Google took this one step further. Instead of just removing the link and never talking about it again, in May 2012 the Google Transparency report was published. Here Google among other discloses which URL’s and by whom were taken down from their search due to copyright violation. The report is a collaboration between Google’s engineers, as well as the legal, policy and communication departments and is being updated on a regular basis.
The front line in the fight on piracy as we know it has traditionally been lead by trade associations as RIAA (US), BPI (UK) or BREIN (NL). These decades-old associations (mostly representing the recording artists) act on the behalf of the content creators in administering copyright fees, but they also conduct research related to the industry and monitor intellectual property right laws and regulations. However, the report uncovers another type of industry fighting online piracy side by side with these copyright protecting giants. Private companies that offer anti-piracy solutions to multiple customers in various creative fields, some of them going by very explicit names as Piracy Stops Here, Removeyourcontent or Takedown Piracy began to emerge in the past years. Unlike the trading associations, these anti-piracy companies are devoting their time and energy exclusively to stopping the unlawful dissemination of their client’s works. They do this by automatically and manually searching for illegal copies of copyrighted material. Once an illegal copy is encountered, the owner of the website gets a request to take the material off the website. Simultaneously, URL removal requests are sent to search engines. The emergence of these companies is among the most recent developments in the vast intellectual property right enforcement industry.
Alongside the music industry represented mostly by the trading associations, one of the most active in hiring anti-piracy companies to remove the illegally shared online content is surprisingly the adult entertainment business. “Unlike Hollywood, adult studios don’t have theatrical releases. They have to be a little bit more proactive.”, explains Nate Glass, the founder and the CEO of Takedown Piracy. Before having his own company, he used to work in the sales and marketing division of an adult movies studio. “One of the tasks they have given me was to visit the retailers and shops that might want to carry our movies. And a recurring thing that I kept hearing was that there was so much of our content available online, that it made them not want to buy our products.” Based on this experience, he founded an anti-piracy company that at is the moment among the most active ones on the market.
The content you were looking for was taken down, but here is a picture of a hamster.
Despite of the fact that it was always possible to request an URL to be removed from the search, the number of reported URLs that have subsequently been erased from Google search results has grown immensely in 2012 – about 1249%. Interestingly, the number of taken down URLs began to rise shortly after the Google Transparency report was published.
According to Mark Jansen, the spokesman of Google Benelux, the report could have contributed to the rise, but it is not the only reason for it. “Another reason, for example, is that the music and movies copyright owners can better find our URL removal tool and point us to illegal content in the search results.”. Yet another reason is probably the previous unawareness about such a thing being even possible, as for example Stichting BREIN, the Dutch association for protecting intellectual property rights that also started to report copyright infringing URLs only during September 2012. According to Tim Kuik, the chairman of the association, it is because the reporting was made possible in the spring of 2012. “This is false. […] the tool has been there since the start and used by rights holders since the start.”, confirms Jansen.
Meanwhile, the business of the anti-piracy companies keeps growing, as does the number of institutions requesting URL removals. The amount has increased by 47% in the second half of 2012, in comparison to just 24% between the second half of 2011 and the first half of 2012. As seen in the case of BREIN, this does not necessarily mean only new companies entering the market, but also old players re-discovering the possibilities.
However, “it does come with a little grain of salt.”, Glass says. Even if reporting URL’s is just one aspect of the solutions the companies offer, many of them see the report as a scoreboard. And not all of it is genuine. “Some of the companies report things to Google that wouldn’t even show up in Google in order to artificially pump up their numbers.”
The impact these solutions have on solving the piracy problem are however not easy to measure. “We don’t ask our clients for sales figures, but we very rarely lose a client. If what we were doing was not making a difference, they would not keep paying us to do it.”, thinks Glass. According to a report by techdirt.com, the global entertainment industry as well as the industry revenues it are continually growing. However, file sharing keeps on growing with them. A 2012 Global Internet Phenomena Report for example shows, that the BitTorrent traffic in North America grew by 40% in absolute values in the second half of 2012. On the other hand, it’s overall internet traffic share is continually declining in behalf of the Real-Time Entertainment, as the report states: “countries with lower Real-Time Entertainment figures typically have higher Filesharing traffic, which leads us to believe that subscribers are likely using applications like BitTorrent to procure audio and video content otherwise not available in their region.” Glass confirms: “I also tell this to my clients. If the people can not get your content legally, they will find some way to get it.”
Piracy continues to be an issue and the discussion on the best approach to copyright protection is still ongoing, as Jansen explains: “As policymakers and Internet users around the world consider the pros and cons of different proposals to address the problem of online copyright infringement, we hope this data will contribute to the discussion.”. According to Glass, the creators and artists should also be heard talking about these issues rather than sending their lawyers. But as long as piracy is a problem, he wants to be fighting it.
(this article is the output of an internship in data journalism at nrc*next and has appeared in a shortened and translated version in the newspaper of 25.6.2013)