Headlines scream, “Google’s Search Changes Are Reportedly Destroying Top Pirate Sites!” and “Google’s New Search Downranking Hits Torrent Sites Hard.” Oh my gosh, can it be true? Does removing pirate links in search results really make a difference? Has traffic to pirate sites plummeted now that their infringing content is harder to find?
What about Google’s oft-repeated claim that its search engine does not drive traffic to pirate websites? Will Google apologists admit it–was Google wrong all this time? Just last week in an update to its report How Google Fights Piracy this assertion was repeated:
1. Search is not a major driver of traffic to pirate sites. [emphasis added] Google Search is not how music, movie, and TV fans intent on pirating media find pirate sites. All traffic from major search engines (Yahoo, Bing, and Google combined) accounts for less than 16% of traffic to sites like The Pirate Bay.17 In fact, several notorious sites have said publicly that they don’t need search engines, as their users find them through social networks, word of mouth, and other mechanisms.18 Research that Google co-sponsored with PRS for Music in the UK further confirmed that traffic from search engines is not what keeps these sites in business.19 These findings were confirmed in a recent research paper published by the Computer & Communications Industry Association.20
The “research paper” cited in the above quote, “The Search Fixation: Infringement, Search Results, and Online Content” also highlights the same claim:
The contention that disappearing undesirable entries from search results would substantially prevent piracy is flawed, however. The solutions to online infringement have little to do with search.
The study supposedly had stats to back this up:
Traffic statistics in 2011 indicated that a mere 15% of traffic to alleged “rogue sites” was referred by search…Evidence suggests that sites associated infringement receive relatively little traffic from search.
So what’s the truth? Has precipitous drop in traffic to pirates sites following Google’s downgrade shown, once and for all, that Google flacks were full of hot air? The answer to that question seems clear.
While this drop in traffic to sites like Kickass.to is welcome, unfortunately it doesn’t mean that pirate links have disappeared from Google search, not at all.
The most notorious pirate sites may have disappeared from top results, but unfortunately they’ve been replaced by lesser known sites peddling the same stolen content. I wrote about this last week and TorrentFreak noticed the same trend:
A search for “Breaking Bad torrent” previously featured Kickass.to, Torrentz.eu and Isohunt.com on top, but these have all disappeared. Interestingly, in some cases their place has been taken by other less popular torrent sites.
Bottom line, it’s progress against the scourge of online piracy, but more work needs to be done by Google and other search engines.