Copyright holders have tried a variety of measures to curb copyright infringement over the years, with varying levels of success.
Site blocking has emerged as one of the preferred solutions. While these measures are not foolproof, the general idea is that they pose a large enough hurdle for casual pirates to choose legal options instead.
This strategy has been rolled out in dozens of countries. Backed by governments or court orders, large Internet providers are required to block The Pirate Bay and other ‘infringing’ domains in the UK, India, Australia, Brazil, Japan and elsewhere.
These blocking orders are typically limited to ISPs, so it’s still possible that people are directed to infringing sites through other means. This includes search engines, such as Google, which continue to index these domains.
The blockades prevent people from easily accessing these sites. Nevertheless, some copyright holders suggested removing these domains from search engines as well, which Google repeatedly refused to do. According to the company, this would prove counterproductive and lead to overbroad censorship.
Google Started Removing ‘Pirate’ Site Domains
Over the past few months, this stance appears to have changed. A few weeks ago we reported that Google had completely removed several Pirate Bay domains from its search results following a request from anti-piracy group BREIN.
In March of 2021, BREIN sent Google a copy of a Dutch court order which compelled local ISPs to block these domains. In response, Google decided to follow suit, even though it wasn’t mentioned in the court order.
Google didn’t respond to our request for comment but BREIN informed us that it certainly made sense for the search engine to comply. Otherwise, BREIN would probably have demanded a similar measure in court, based on the ISP order.
As far as we know, this was the first time that Google had voluntarily complied with a pirate site blocking order. However, it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
This week we stumbled on several other requests which resulted in the removal of Pirate Bay domains. Not just that, several other pirate sites are affected as well. What all these requests have in common is that they refer to an existing ISP blocking order that doesn’t directly involve Google.
Domain Removals Spread to Norway, Brazil and France
In Norway, Google has removed the results of several pirate site domains from search results after the Motion Picture Association alerted the company to ISP blocking orders, which were first issued in 2015.
The list of domains includes The Pirate Bay and several mirror sites, as well as ExtraTorrent, and Movie4k domains. These domain names were indeed removed in recent weeks.
The same is true in France where The Pirate Bay, Zone-telechargement, Oxtorrent, Cpasbien, and several other domains were also deindexed. This is again in response to an older ISP blocking order, which was sent to Google by French music industry group SCPP.
In Brazil, several pirate site domains were removed as well. This request came from Brazil’s Ministry of Justice and does specifically name Google. In addition to more than 200 pirate site domains, the blocking order also covers dozens of piracy-related apps in the Play Store.
UK and Sweden Also Request Domain Removals
Finding these orders in the Lumen database is not easy so it’s possible that there are more. What we know for sure is that new requests continued to come in over the past few weeks.
On January 1st, a Swedish law firm acting on behalf of several Hollywood studios forwarded a local ISP blocking order to Google. This notice covers The Pirate Bay and many of its proxies. However, at the time of writing these are still indexed by the search engine.
The same is true in the UK where the entertainment industry law firm Wiggin sent 15 older ISP blocking orders to Google. This request, which lists 198 domains in total, was also sent last month and the domains haven’t been blocked yet.
In a way, it’s fitting that we post this article a few years before the tenth ‘anniversary’ of the SOPA protests. At the time, millions of people were up in arms because search engines could be forced to remove infringing domain names.
Google was one of the leading opposition forces and “censored” its logo in protest. “Tell Congress. Please don’t censor the web,” the search giant wrote.
Other heavyweights also chimed in, using the same censorship terminology. This included Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the Internet.
“Relative to the questionable efficacy of this proposed remedy, requiring search engines to delete a domain name begins a worldwide arms race of unprecedented ‘censorship’ of the Web,” Cerf wrote at the time.
Today, there is little outrage. Our previous coverage of Google’s Pirate Bay removals in the Netherlands hardly went noticed. This could in part be because the U.S. is not affected, at least not yet.
Or perhaps times have changed? Google seems to think so…
From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.
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