Six months after Google announced that it would demote accused pirate sites in the company’s search rankings, the top music-recording companies say those sites remain as easy to find as ever on Google.
In August, Google announced that it would tweak its search rankings to try to lower the profile of sites accused by copyright owners of trafficking in unauthorized copies of music, movies and other intellectual property. "This ranking change should help users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily," wrote Amit Singhal, Google's senior vice president of engineering, in a blog post on August 10th.
Piracy sites consistently appear at the top of Google's search results
The Recording Industry Association of America — the trade group for the top three record labels — was among those from the entertainment sector that applauded the move. But the RIAA said in a report issued this morning that Google's efforts have proven fruitless.
"We have found no evidence that Google’s policy has had a demonstrable impact on demoting sites with large amounts of piracy," the RIAA said in a statement. "These sites consistently appear at the top of Google’s search results for popular songs or artists."
The RIAA's report is sure to feed the belief held by some in the entertainment industry that Google is only giving lip service to fighting piracy. For years, the largest film studios and record labels have tried to persuade Google to weed out bad actors from its search index. They have pleaded with Google's managers to help stop the same sites from generating revenue from Google ads.
Google already does much more to protect intellectual property than the law requires
In response, Google has repeatedly said that the company is a friend to copyright owners. Google has been quick to remind the entertainment sector that the search company already does more to protect intellectual property than the law requires. For instance, YouTube's Content ID system famously enabled automatic filtering for pirated videos even though the company maintained it wasn't legally obligated to do so.
A critical reason Google actively fights piracy is so that the company can keep YouTube and Google Play supplied with films, songs, and TV shows from content partners. With the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, digital entertainment has become much more important to Google in the past several years; that's why the RIAA can issue these report cards on Google's antipiracy performance with any hope of prodding the search company into action.
In the latest report, the RIAA said that it tracked sites identified by Google’s Copyright Transparency Report as "serial infringers." A serial infringer is a site that is accused by a copyright owner, in the form of a written complaint called a takedown notice, of hosting pirated content. The RIAA said that serial infringers "still managed to appear on page 1" of Google's search results "over 98 percent of the time."
The RIAA claims that legitimate sources only appeared in the top ten results half of the time
According to the RIAA, results on page one of a Google search is important because studies show 94 percent of users do not go beyond the first page. The RIAA said that as part of its analysis, it searched Google for songs that appeared in the Billboard Hot 100 during December. The tracks included "Diamonds," by Rihanna, "Die Young," by Ke$shaw, "One More Night," by Maroon 5, and "Locked out of Heaven," by Bruno Mars.
The trade group also presented evidence that throws water on Google's goal of making it easier for users to find "legitimate, quality sources of content" by virtue of the fact that pirated media is appearing relatively high in the search results.
In its report, the RIAA writes:
Well-known, authorized download sites, such as iTunes, Amazon and eMusic, only appeared in the top ten results for a little more than half of the 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… 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.