Google: Many Popular Sites Will Escape Pirate Penalty, Not Just YouTube

Google says that YouTube isn’t going to somehow solely escape its new “pirate penalty.” Any popular site may be OK, as the penalty works off of more than pure copyright infringement reports. Nuances in calculating the penalty should save popular user-generated content sites, the company said.

The Pirate Penalty

Initially, it sounded as if sites with many copyright infringement complaints filed against them with Google — such as those listed here in the Google Transparency Report — would be at risk under the new pirate penalty Google will begin imposing next week.

If that were the case, Google’s own YouTube site would have a unique advantage in that copyright infringement notices filed against it are largely handled through a separate system and wouldn’t count against it in the way other sites would be hit, under the forthcoming penalty.

YouTube & Copyright Infringement Notices

Our article from Friday, How YouTube Will Escape Google’s New Pirate Penalty, documents that situation in detail. But speaking with Google today, the company provided more details it hadn’t shared before.

In particular, Google said that notices filed against YouTube through the separate YouTube copyright infringement reporting system will be combined with those filed against YouTube through the Google Search reporting system.

So how many infringements in total will YouTube face, beyond the tiny 650 URLs removal requests filed through the Google Search system over the past year-and-a-half? Google still refuses to give a specific number, telling me only that it’s “magnitudes” beyond those with Google Search.

Google: YouTube & Others Not Likely To Be Hit

There’s an excellent chance that YouTube may have more copyright infringement notices filed against it (and upheld by Google) than any of the sites likely to be targeted through what can now be considered the Google Search takedown list. Despite this, Google repeated its earlier statement that it didn’t expect YouTube to be hit. That previous statement:

We’re treating YouTube like any other site in search rankings. That said, we don’t expect this change to demote results for popular user-generated content sites.

How can this be? How can YouTube escape a penalty that seemed specifically designed to impact sites with a lot of copyright infringement notices (that Google has deemed valid) filed against them? That’s where those nuances I mentioned come in.

On Friday, when Google announced the forthcoming penalty, it suggested that sheer number of notices against a site were what was involved. From its post:

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.

More Than Number Of Notices Counted

Today, Google told me today that the new penalty will look beyond just the number of notices. It will also take into account other factors, specifics that Google won’t reveal, but with the end result that YouTube — as well as other popular sites beyond YouTube — aren’t expected to be hit.

What other sites? Examples Google gave me include Facebook, IMDB, Tumblr and Twitter. But it’s not that there’s some type of “whitelist” of sites. Rather, Google says the algorithm automatically assesses various factors or signals to decide if a site with a high number of copyright infringement notices against it should also face a penalty.

Without clarification from Google, we can only make assumptions on how this will work. My guess is that Google will be looking at factors to somehow determine if a site seems legitimate. Does it have many reputable links to it? Can Google detect if there’s a lot of sharing of content from those sites? Are there factors that already give the site a good “reputation” in Google’s algorithms for other types of searches.

By “legitimate,” I’m making a further assumption that Google’s trying not to harm sites that seem to be making a good-faith effort through internal systems to remove infringing content. Just as YouTube has its own takedown system, other sites that are actively working to remove content after copyright holder complaints might be effectively given a pass in how the new penalty works.

In fact, Google even argues that YouTube is likely being assessed more severely under the new system. It knows how many complaints have been filed with YouTube directly, through YouTube’s own system, and those count against YouTube under the pirate penalty. In contrast, takedown notices that are filed directly with other sites, and acted upon by those sites’ internal mechanisms, are not counted.

Of course, other sites might have massively fewer requests filed against them, compared to YouTube. But the bigger issue is that the penalty has been designed with a recipe that still gives YouTube, along with other popular sites, a likely escape.

It might not be a YouTube-specific escape clause, but YouTube will escape along with other sites — and it’s not something that was made clear in the company’s initial announcement, which suggested the penalty was purely tied to number of notices acted upon.

Related Articles

Related Topics: Channel: Video | Features: Analysis | Google: Pirate Update | Google: SEO | Google: Web Search | Google: YouTube & Video | Legal: Copyright | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Data

    tricky tricky tricky
    they must either penalize all sites for pirated content or not penalize anyone.
    Cheap tricks to save youtube does not like nice
    “do not be evil!”

  • Matt Wedgwood

    Google is starting to get too big for its britches. 

  • Gary Bisha

    Now people can harm competitors site by posting a project on mini freelance and asking freelancers to copy their contents and paste on competitors site,

  • Codex Meridian

    Links is like freedom granted to humans. Sometimes when you have too much freedom, you will be insane.

    Now that Google and their allies have too much links in their hands, you will start to know the effects of being insane. 

  • Codex Meridian

    So this means that if Amazon, About, Ebay, Ehow, Tutsplus and other Google britches will start copying my original and quality or host my hard work files without authorization , so they will escape pirate penalty? Stup id.

    I hope Nokor nuke their offices.

  • Codex Meridian

    In real court of law, you are innocent until proven guilty. In this new Google algorithm you are guilty as soon as you are accused.

  • daengbo

    With the DMCA, you are immediately presumed guilty with virtually no chance of presenting your case. This isn’t Google. It’s a law that’s over a decade old (and that should be repealed).

  • EvanVanVan

    It was always going to take in the quality of the sites, along with the sheer number of take down requests

  • Jack N Fran Farrell

    Penalty must go to the offending party. Whoever posts copyrighted material is the culprit. If someone sincerely believes his post is fair use, then fine. If not then turn Emanuels Law-dogs loose on him.

  • Bob Bigellow

    Maybe its not about the sheer number which wouldn’t make sense, but the size of the ratio. For instance, if a site a tenth of the traffic of YouTube has the same number of offenses as YouTube, then a larger fraction of their content is infringing. So maybe what YouTube and others their size have as an advantage is the sheer amount of legitimate content to help make the infringing content look to be a fluke. A site that is specifically built for piracy is going to have a much larger ratio of infringing content.

  • Charbax

    This means thepiratebay won’t be penalized because it’s so popular and consumes upwards half the worlds bandwidth? Great!

  • Mike Willens

    Yeah, cause Youtube doesn’t infringe anything. It’s not like they play entire 2 disc albums like Billy Joels’s greatest hits. oh wait, is this it?

    Or show full length movies like Snow White? Oh wait, is this it?

    Or even the recent Spiderman movie? Oh wait, is this it?

    Yeah, no copyright issues to see here…

  • Arrby

    I’ll care when YouTube’s owners care that I work full time, am not a criminal (like bankers and tax evading corporations) and yet have to go to payday lenders each month in order to live. Bosses are getting what they want. They want the kick they get from not pulling their weight, but instead exploiting, with the support of fascist political leaders, the working class. If Google doesn’t want us to abuse YouTube, then they should shut it down. Duh! If we were like Google, then we would call it criminal for aiding and abetting theives and set about taking them to court.

  • robthom

    You didn’t notice that at least a year or two ago?

  • robthom

    Thats a clever idea.

    And thats exactly the kind of go getter thinking that separates the winners from the losers in a corporate dystopia.

    In fact its not that far removed morally from google’s own strategy of penalizing others for what they are doing via youtube themselves!

  • robthom

     ”…so they will escape pirate penalty?”


    They’re the 1% and you’re the none.

  • robthom

    And by “quality” you mean advertising dollars and corporate alliances.

  • Karthik kumar

    “Reputation” as a metric to measure infringement? I can’t clearly connect it. I think it would be better to look at how much user generated content (all? 80%? just comments?) a DMCA-prone domain has, and to look at the ratio of non-infringing (ahem, not filed) pages against all.. Or something along those lines.. As for assessing the website’s internal system to minimize infringement, how can an algorithm know it?

  • Maurice Walshe

    Presumably “is the site owned by google” is one of the “other factors” 

  • ehjxgcth

    Actually, in the real court of law you’re punished until you establish your innocence. Someone who robs a store is locked up until the trial. Someone who gets a parking ticket must pay it or go to court to try to establish their innocence. That’s how it is in the legal system. Yet the pirate apologists keep blathering about this. 

    Face it: 99.99% of the piracy on Youtube is exactly that. Oh sure there are a few edge cases that are interesting but most of it is cut and dried. And that’s why they don’t contest the DMCA notices. They just move on and start a new identity and Google makes that easy because that makes GOOG the most money.

  • Ajedi32

    I’d just like to point out that the algorithm doesn’t assess the websites internal systems for removing illegal content. The idea is that if a site has systems in place for allowing copyright holders to have that content removed, they would file the removal requests there instead of with Google, thereby decreasing the number of content removal requests Google receives for that website.

  • Ajedi32

    That would be nothing new, just a different type of reverse SEO. (And a fairly ineffective one since the site you are attacking can simply remove the offending content.) So far Google has been pretty good at ignoring most reverse SEO attempts.

  • EvanVanVan

    No, no I mean quality.  I doubt there are to many advertising dollars flowing between facebook and Google.  You know, being direct competitors and all.

  • Karthik kumar

     I agree. But that again depends on the extent of pirated content the website has. For example, when multiple instances of infringement are found on the same website (for a given copyright owner), he/she might get frustrated and might rather choose to file the request with Google’s search system rather than using the options provided within the website.

    And I guess this tends to be the common case. If not, then why should Google see such numerous requests against Youtube content themselves, where there is a well implemented system within?

    But again, yes, I hadn’t thought of what you have suggested. And it does make sense that way.

  • David Smith

    youtube’s popularity is based on the vast majority of its visitors consuming copyright infringing videos. Google then wrap ads around the copyright infringing videos, and profit from them.  It’s a great way to make money, and it’s a lot cheaper than buying royalties to the copyright owners (yes I know Google DO pay royalties to a select list of musicians but the majority of movies and TV clips and full album plays on youtube are infringing copyright). 

    So it’s no surprise as to why Google have made an exception for youtube.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    I can appreciate what Google is tying to do, but I feel like this is only going to muddy the waters even further.

  • Joe Youngblood

    Gotta love their transparency :/

  • Codex Meridian

    Great Job to them…Face Palm.

  • Codex Meridian

    Wow, I didn’t know this. So this means that a wrongfully accused copyright offender is worst than James Holmes!

    This DMCA law looks brutal. Luckily James Holmes the Dark Knight killer didn’t start a website and gets wrongfully accused of DMCA. If he was, he will soon be hearing the guilty verdict in his Google rankings faster than killing dozens of people.


  • Codex Meridian

    Yeah but if you are locked up in prison you get food for free, shelter and even medicine. If you are penalized by being a wrongfully accused DMCA offender with your honest website and business, you dropped your rankings like rock and you cannot feed yourself and even your family. See the difference?

  • Matt McGee

    “If you are penalized by being a wrongfully accused DMCA offender with your honest website and business, you dropped your rankings like rock and you cannot feed yourself and even your family. ”

    Don’t you think that’s just a little bit of an exaggeration? I mean really. Where does Google says it will “drop sites like a rock”? What they do say is that this is one new ranking factor out of 200+ ranking factors. Honest websites that aren’t involved in mass copyright infringement should have nothing at all to worry about. This change is clearly aimed at the types of sites that have built their business around copyright violations.

  • Codex Meridian

    To Matt McGee-  No this is not an exaggeration. If you ask sites that are affected by major algorithmic change, the drop in rankings and traffic is not minimal. A usual drop of 50% or even more is commonly observed.There are two things that can happen to a website in every major algorithm change:1.) NO change in traffic.2.) ABRUPT change in traffic (such as the nose dive, which I am talking about “dropping like a rock”.).I assume you know that. Take for example, Penguin update.. Lots of business owners lost their income and currently now experiencing crisis. Yes I know Google does not owe them a living, but try to think closely about the adverse effects of their algorithmic driven decisions. Lots of honest sites are affected to the point that website owners are frustrated as to what they will do with their site.What’s disappointing here is that honest websites (such as a typical small business owner) gets affected by their algorithmic flaws and that is unacceptable while BIG sites walk away from their algo mess unscathed.

  • ehjxgcth

    Matt McGee is right. The sites who are filled with DMCA content will drop like a rock. Whoo hoo! 

  • Matt McGee

    “If you ask sites that are affected by major algorithmic change, the drop in rankings and traffic is not minimal.”

    Can you point me to a single site that’s been affected by this week’s change? We’d like to know about any sites that are seeing a 50% drop in Google traffic due to the new copyright infringement factor. Thanks.

  • Mike Willens

    I love Youtube but come on! It totally infringes copyright and don’t see how it is able to survive. Has anyone ever explained why the govt. can shut down Napster but not Youtube?  (And Pinterest for that matter although that is a separate issue)

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