Why Google's Piracy Crackdown On Torrent Searches Isn't Such A Big Deal

Google announced over the weekend that it would change the way it displays search results, giving less prominence to sites which are repeatedly the subject of complaints by copyright holders. While that produced some anguished howls from the internet community, claims the move represents censorship or the death of torrenting are fundamentally wrong-headed.

Google certainly has form in this area: last year, it started dropping auto suggestions relating to torrenting. Here's what it has done in its own words, with a few key phrases emphasised:

We aim to provide a great experience for our users and have developed over 200 signals to ensure our search algorithms deliver the best possible results. Starting next week, we will begin taking into account a new signal in our rankings: the number of valid copyright removal notices we receive for any given site. Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results . . . Only copyright holders know if something is authorized, and only courts can decide if a copyright has been infringed; Google cannot determine whether a particular webpage does or does not violate copyright law. So while this new signal will influence the ranking of some search results, we won’t be removing any pages from search results unless we receive a valid copyright removal notice from the rights owner.

When Google tweaks, the world freaks. Every site that relies on Google searches to drive traffic is sensitive to changes in how that traffic is directed. But it's quite hard to have sympathy for a site giving away content that isn't its own suddenly appearing lower in the rankings. Let's take a quick reality check:

Reality check #1: This isn't censorship. Despite what some US Gizmodo writers might claim, this isn't censorship. Google isn't blocking the sites, and it isn't removing links to them altogether. It's simply using the number of complaints as one of the factors when weighting the order of search results. Guess what? Google does that all the time.

Reality check #2: Google chooses how results are displayed, but you choose what to search for. If your search terms are specific enough, you'll get to the site or content you want. If you choose to search the results from a specific site using Google, you'll get exactly what you want. If you look hard enough, you'll find it. If you're expecting Google to make life easier for you all the time, think again.

Reality check #3: Dedicated torrent seekers won't give a damn. Anything which you can find with a single search can also be found by the copyright owners with a single search. As such, issuing takedown requests and copyright complaints is easy. Meanwhile, anyone who is a heavy torrent user will be relying on dedicated search sites, Usenet or other resources. As such, Google doing this won't make a massive difference, other than making Google look more serious about copyright enforcement. And that's an understandable stance for a listed company, whatever your own individual behaviour is.


    Yet another reason to stop using Google...

      and use the fully featured alternatives that have equal or better services.


    I have no problem with the whole idea as long as it is applied consistently. I expect Youtube results to drop down to page 10 of my search queries, given the incredible volume of DMCA complaints they receive.

    Don't know why people dislike Google. They give you amazing services essentially for free. Should they not be compensated for their work with adchoices? And in regards to torrents, torrents are illegal. You may use them because +insert whatever reason you want+ but for the most part they are free and illegal. Google is doing something to try and stamp out piracy. I dont mind. And for all the other stuff they do I take off my tin foil hat and say thanks

      how are all torrents illegal? what is the difference in me downloading a TV show or me recording it myself of a TV? by me recording it have I committed an offense? If me recording it of TV is illegal why does Sony, Samsung, LG make video records?

      you cant steal what someone gives away for free. (movies different story)

        Under the Copyright Amendment Act 2006 recording a public broadcast, for personal domestic use, is not an offence in Australia.

        Well I suppose I better go to itunes or my local shops and request free digital content by your logic, because I could record it anyway

    A bit misguided.
    #1 No, not technically censorship, but when you can hide a link in 100 million search results the difference is only a technicality. And Google does NOT "do this all the time". Until now they've done their best to give results users wanted. Now other motivations are allowed influence.

    #2 Type "demonoid.me" into google. You won't get the site demonoid.me in the first 10 pages (I didn't look further). It's the top result in Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, Ask, etc.

    #3 I'm a dedicated torrent seeker, and I give a damn. As of yesterday I've changed my default search engine in my browsers and phone. If sites in google results made takedowns easier, Hollywood would be against the new idea - that's obviously absurd.

      Hmm, what I wrote in #2 is no longer the case. It was correct yesterday when I took this screenshot: http://i48.tinypic.com/19t3sw.png
      It does still apply, however, to a search for "demonoid".

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