Understanding Google’s ‘Pirate’ Algorithm

Understanding Google’s ‘Pirate’ Algorithm

By: Austin Dicharry

Signed by President Clinton in 1998 and officially enacted in 2000, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) updated U.S. copyright laws to address ownership issues emerging from the establishment of the World Wide Web. Specifically, the DMCA made it a crime for Internet users or website owners to willfully evade anti-piracy measures installed in software or to manufacture, distribute or sell materials that copy software illegally. However, the DMCA stated that it was legal for someone to break into copyright protection entities to perform research on encryption methods, test computer system security levels or evaluate product interoperability.

Title II: Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act

Still contentious today is Title II of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act– the paragraph stating that certain website owners, ISPs and OSPs are absolved of liability if visitors of their site deliberately commit acts deemed as “intellectual property infringement”. In addition, Title II details measures an “infringed” individual can take if they feel the site has taken advantage of their copyrighted property. Known as the DMCA Takedown Notice, it forces website owners to “cease and desist” the dissemination of copyrighted material on their site.

Google’s Crackdown on Piracy Sites

In 2012, Google updated its search algorithm to specifically target websites hit with high numbers of takedown requests. Unofficially designated at Google’s “Pirate Update” or “Pirate Algorithm”, it is meant to reduce Google’s search ranking of websites accused of pirating copyrighted films, writings, songs and anything else that could legally be considered intellectual property. For the millions of websites on the Internet, Google’s Pirate Algorithm wasn’t a big deal. For a select few websites, however, it was more than devastating.

Google’s Transparency Reports

Websites receiving DMCA Takedown Requests can ask Google to send them a list of all demands to remove copyrighted content. Reports provide detailed information about takedown notices, top copyright owners and all domains that have been issued an official takedown request. It’s been estimated that in 2013, millions of URLs received takedown requests each week, presenting Google with a much larger than expected undertaking since each request must be investigated to ensure requests have not been filed by roguishly competitive websites.

Three Strikes and You’re Out? Or Is It Only Two Strikes?

After initiating their Pirate Algorithm, Google issued this ominous statement: “Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our search results“. However, it is still not known how many takedown notices a site needs to receive before the algorithm negatively impacts the site’s ability to be found by users of Google’s search engine–which includes just about anybody who performs an Internet search. For websites that care about SERP, deliberately avoiding copyright infringement of anyone’s property should be one of their top priorities. For other sites that live only for the moment, it’s like playing cat-and-mouse with the biggest predator on the planet–Google.

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