RIAA: Google Failing to Demote Pirate Websites

In a new report (PDF), the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) claims that Google has failed in its attempt to lower the search-results rankings of so-called “pirate” Websites.

“We have found no evidence that Google’s policy has had a demonstrable impact on demoting sites with large amounts of piracy,” read the report’s summary. “These sites consistently appear at the top of Google’s search results for popular songs or artists.”

Last August, Google indicated that it would start lowering the search-result rankings of Websites with high numbers of “valid” copyright removal notices. “This ranking change should help users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily—whether it’s a song previewed on NPR’s music website, a TV show on Hulu or new music streamed on Spotify,” Amit Singhal, Google’s senior vice president of Engineering, wrote in a corporate blog posting at the time.

Google, which receives millions of copyright removal notices every month, also offers a counter-notice tool for those who believe their Websites have been unfairly targeted for copyright violations.

Six months after Singhal’s announcement, the RIAA believes those pirate Websites haven’t suffered much from Google’s search adjustment. “The sites we analyzed, all of which were serial infringers per Google’s Copyright Transparency Report, were not demoted in any significant way in the search results,” read the RIAA’s report, “and still managed to appear on page 1 of the search results over 98 percent of the time in the searches conducted.”

Moreover, legitimate downloading Websites such as Amazon only appeared in the top ten results for just over half of the RIAA’s searches. “This means that a site for which Google has received thousands of copyright removal requests was almost 8 times more likely to show up in a search result than an authorized music download site,” the report added. “In other words, whatever Google has done to its search algorithms to change the ranking of infringing sites, it doesn’t appear to be working.”

The RIAA’s researchers performed Google searches for the top 50 tracks on the Billboard Hot 100 list as of December 3, 2012, formatting their search queries as “[artist] [track] mp3” and “[artist] [track] download.” The actual searches took place over a period of “several weeks.” Those researchers performed additional analysis on the results for the top 10 track queries. In a separate study, they also spent several months collecting data on the top 5 search results for “free [artist] mp3” and “free [artist] download.”

In the RIAA’s analysis, a little less than half (4.6) of the top 10 search results were for Websites that had received more than 1,000 copyright removal requests by January 23, 2013; on the flip side, authorized downloading sites appeared a mere 0.6 times out of 10 in those top 10 search results. The RIAA claims that Mp3skull.com, hit with roughly 100,000 instances of infringement, appeared more often as the topmost search result “than all of the well-known, authorized digital music download sites in the top 10 search results.”

The RIAA performed “several more measurements” to determine whether the so-called pirate Websites had truly received a demotion following Google’s August announcement:

Pirate Websites, it concluded, have not been demoted by Google “in any meaningful way, at least with respect to searches for downloads or mp3s of specific tracks or artists.”

Google, of course, needs to negotiate deals with record labels and other content-producers in order to stock its Google Play storefront. If those companies feel that Google isn’t doing enough to suppress piracy (particularly on Google-owned Websites such as YouTube), it could make securing that content a more fraught affair.

 

Images: RIAA

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