Earlier this year, in June, the online world was in turmoil over the long-awaited most recent Google update that finally was released. Expected by SEO experts and by the copyright debate groups to be first and foremost a pirate update, targeting copyright infringing sites and making their activity impossible or more difficult, the new update was actually surprisingly ineffective. While it did seem to punish and decrease the visibility of a few copyright infringing hubs in the first stage of its implementation, the Google pirate algorithm was unexpectedly harmless towards streaming sites dabbling in online piracy.
While the whole issue of piracy and copyright infringement is still under debate and it’s not yet clear how far the anti-piracy measures should reach, some measures taken against piracy are clear, at least where the present anti-piracy laws and measures are concerned. The laws and rules of what is and is not allowed are clear, even if they may change soon due to results of the ongoing debates. Therefore, the implementation of the Google pirate algorithm should have had more of an impact on the piracy networks it was targeting. Instead, recent reports analysing the effects of the pirate update indicate that its force was very unevenly distributed.
How the Google Pirate Algorithm Works
A report just released by the streaming search engine JustWatch at the beginning of November indicates what SEO experts have already suspected since the release of the pirate update. The new report indicates that while the algorithm did indeed have a strong impact on torrents and the websites that hosted them, managing to decrease their visibility and traffic by almost half, it left streaming websites and streaming portals almost untouched. The effect was so disproportionate that the authors of the report, JustWatch, are even wondering whether Google is actually protecting piracy up to some extent. Of course, it would make sense for them to be suspicious of that, since their services are designed as a legal alternative to streaming portals promoting copyright infringing content.
As you can see from the graphic, the torrent sites were hit pretty hard after the new Google Pirate Algorithm was implemented. By comparison, the streaming websites continued their illegal activity unhindered, and their traffic even seemed to increase after the pirate update (see graphic below).
In reality, the apparent increase in traffic for the streaming portals offering copyright infringing content was obviously just a side consequence of the torrents becoming less visible and harder to get to. In the absence of torrents, users in search of watching some pirated movies were obviously flocking to the streaming websites. So while this makes it clear that Google isn’t actually favouring the streaming sites intentionally, it still leaves the question open about why these hubs weren’t among the main targets of the pirate update.
The answer to this is that while the rules of anti-piracy may seem simple on the surface, enacting them sure isn’t. Critiques about the impact of their new algorithm on streaming portals aren’t new, and Google has responded to them by explaining the limitations of their pirate update. This all comes down to what exactly gets removed: torrents are easy to make harder to access, since that doesn’t really affect their main hub per se (a torrent site such as Pirate Bay, for example). It only affects the servers which host the torrent files, such as in the many sweeps that we’ve previously covered here on BurnWorld. But with streaming portals, things aren’t that simple: you cannot take down an entire domain name, Google representatives explained, for having parts of its content suspicious under the anti-piracy laws. That would unevenly affect the entire content of that network.
So while the point isn’t to allow streaming websites to get away with piracy penalty-free, torrents are simply easier to target for the time being. As long as anti-piracy rules are still pretty fluid and subject to change, it’s pretty difficult to find ideal solutions to target all forms of piracy. Future Google updates will probably be able to hinder streaming websites more effectively, at least according to Google’s responses to these critiques against their recent pirate update.