How YouTube Will Escape Google’s New Pirate Penalty

Google has announced that it will soon penalize sites that are repeatedly accused of copyright infringement. But one site in particular doesn’t need to worry: Google’s own YouTube. It has a unique immunity against the forthcoming penalty.

POSTSCRIPT: Please also be sure to read our follow-up article, Google: Many Popular Sites Will Escape Pirate Penalty, Not Just YouTube

The penalty — which we’ve dubbed the Emanuel Update — impacts Google’s web search results. If someone has reported a web search listing as being a copyright violation, using the DMCA takedown mechanism, that’s a strike against the entire site.

Accumulate enough strikes (how many, Google’s not saying), and a publisher may find their entire site hit with a penalty. Every page, whether it was reported for copyright infringement or not, will have less chance of ranking well.

Strike Count Against Publishers

If you’re trying to understand what sites might be at risk, Google has a page where it discloses which publishers have the most takedown strikes against them:

But many, if not all, the copyright strikes against YouTube won’t show up on this list. Google even tells you this:

Requests for products other than Google Search (e.g, requests directed at YouTube or Blogger) are not included.

The YouTube Escape Hatch

See, people who are upset with alleged infringement on YouTube are directed to a completely separate DMCA form to use. Try it yourself. Use the form Google talked about in its blog post today. The form warns you away from using it to report YouTube violations right at the top, and if you still try to pick the YouTube option, you get a further warning to go elsewhere:

When you do go elsewhere, YouTube jumps you through more hoops before you can just report. You go the YouTube Copyright Center:

From there, if you follow the “Content Owners” option, you get to a new page with several further options:

There, YouTube will let those who want to do a removal do so, but it also pitches a way to submit multiple notices more easily through a special Content Verification Program (a sign that YouTube gets lots of takedown requests), as well as the pretty cool Content ID system, which lets those who have infringement allegations decide to be mellow, let those videos stay up with ads and collect some income off of it.

Content ID is very nice, but if copyright owners aren’t convinced, they can still go the takedown route and get a video removed. The page at YouTube hosting the video itself remains up. The page also remains potentially listed in Google. The request definitely doesn’t count against YouTube in the tallies that will be used in the new pirate penalty, since these aren’t considered web page removals.

If Google had a common DMCA takedown system, YouTube would face a threat with the forthcoming penalty. How much is uncertain. Since Google doesn’t seem to disclose the number of YouTube takedown requests it has acted upon (I have asked for a figure), there’s no way to assess YouTube against the other sites on the strikeout list above.

YouTube In Search Results

Now let’s see how this works in action. You might recall earlier this year, Saturday Night Live did an absolutely hilarious parody of how Downton Abbey might be promoted if it ran on Bravo.

Unfortunately, for reasons that have never been made clear (but likely a rights dispute between NBCUniversal & the makers of Downton Abbey), it was never aired outside the East Coast of the US nor posted online officially.

That didn’t stop people posting it unofficially, without explicit permission. Here’s how the results currently look at Google, if someone were seeking that video in a common way right now:

The first result leads to the Perez Hilton site, where you can still watch the video hosted on that site just as you might watch it hosted on YouTube. If NBCUniversal filed a DMCA request, chances are, that page would get removed (assuming there’s not some licensing agreement, and I doubt there is). Perez Hilton’s entire site would have accumulated a strike against it.

Next, Styleite also self hosts the video, it seems, so it’s the same situation as with Perez Hilton. The same is true for Gawker, as best I can tell.

Several other pages listing in the top results above show the video, but because they embed from YouTube, they’re not really at risk for a DMCA takedown. These include known pirate sites like Time and Entertainment Weekly.

NBCUniversal’s own Today site was cheerfully embedding a pirated version of the video on YouTube until that got taken down, but it’s still promising to assist with second-hand infringement as soon as the clip turns up elsewhere:

Sorry! NBC Universal has blocked the YouTube clip that showed the “SNL” skit. If it shows up anywhere else online, we’ll get it back up here.

How The Google Search Umpire Doesn’t See YouTube’s Strike

Now let’s talk YouTube. In the screenshot above, I’ve pointed to where YouTube is listed, with a “Safe!” caption. It’s not that the video is safe. NBCUniversal could file a DMCA request to get the clip removed. But as I said, doing this just removes the clip as what we could call a “YouTube takedown,” not a “Search takedown.” YouTube, in the eyes of Google Search, has not suffered a copyright strike against it.

Technically, the YouTube listing appearing in the screenshot above isn’t a web search result but a Google Video result, inserted by Google Universal Search. That’s also true for the other video under it, a different listing from the Perez Hilton site. But that Perez Hilton video listing would get removed via the web search takedown system, as there is no Google Video removal. The YouTube one, as I’ve explained, would fall under the YouTube removal system.

Google: “We’re Treating YouTube Like Any Other Site”

I did ask Google about all this and was told

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.

I just don’t see that. There’s no way to treat YouTube — or Blogger — like any other site in the search rankings, when those sites have special takedown forms that don’t allow their alleged infringing activity to measured up against other sites.

Postscript: Be sure to also see our follow-up article, Google: Many Popular Sites Will Escape Pirate Penalty, Not Just YouTube

Related Articles

Related Topics: Channel: Video | 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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  • Dan Thornton

    The point where a business whose search engine has long displayed pirate sites, and whose video site is largely built around pirate content, decides to factor DMCA notices into search engine rankings is the point I stop using it except for client work.

    Considering Youtube’s own content ID and DMCA processes are well known to be error prone, how many people are going to file a notice against every single Youtube embed on a competitors site?

    The more technology companies try to appease media companies, and indeed emulate them, the sooner they’ll reach their own demise…

  • Scott McKirahan

    This will be something that SEO’s rant and rave about but in the end, the people Google cares about – the end users – will have no clue and simply don’t care. Google owes nothing to websites as much as we would all like to think they do. They are going to rank sites where they want to rank them and if you don’t like it, oh well. It’s THEIR website. They don’t need your permission to raise your site, lower your site or make it completely disappear. They certainly don’t have to take any content down off of their own website and I wouldn’t either if I owned YouTube. The day they are forced to be “fair,” is the day I know we have truly lost our freedom in America.

  • Alan

    More hypocrisy from Google. Not sure how much more I can stomach. 

  • Joe Youngblood

    Great stuff Danny!

  • Lance Carr

    Easily the greatest source of scraping and unauthorized use of my content comes from I have a feeling that may enjoy similar leniency!

  • daveintheuk

    The sad thing is, Google treating their own properties in search results is no longer news – it is the norm.

    I think the trouble is a lot of people at Google genuinely think their products are the best thing since sliced bread and that they are doing some great service to users/copyright owners/business owners etc… Perhaps they too blinded by the face-value “coolness” of the Content ID to see it for what it really is – a little bribe to stop people enforcing their rights. As with so many of the things Google seems to get away with, it is hard to imagine it translating into a “real world” scenario – can you imagine Pirate Bay or similar (who only direct people to content, not serve the stolen content themselves) offered to cut movie studios in?! Or the guy flogging fake “Rolex” watches on a market stall offering Rolex 50p for every knock-off watch he sellse? How do Google do it?

    End result of this? More Google properties, making money off other people’s content, at the top of the results – while the PR side rinses and repeats that this is all good for users and copyright owners.

  • Jenksy

    Funny how Google always ends up on the periphery of its own rules. Equally ironic as that is funny is that Google is the biggest enabler of copyright infringement the world has ever known (***note to South East Asia: steal one more of our images via Google images and I’m sending in troops).

    Equally sad as the two, former points are funny and ironic, are the drones who come buzzing-about with the what-they-feel-is-some-master-stroke-of-rhetoric-and-reasoning mantra, “it’s their search engine” at any point a rational criticism is leveled against Google. 

    *le sigh*

    Google continues on this trajectory for two reasons only. Here they are:
    1.) Critical thinking is a critically endangered intellectual faculty
    2.) Apathy

  • ZengaFooo

    Now there s a dude that clearly knows what time it is. Wow.  

  • Pierre Gardin

    Not sure anyone cares about your life except yourself.

  • fjpoblam

    Excuse me for asking, but doesn’t this reduce the value of using Google as a search engine so much, that it is of of obviously less value than most any other?

  • simontay78

    Why can’t google be just a unbiased search engine that index EVERYTHING and tweak the search results based on popularity, relevancy, date & back links.

    Now that with a swift Pirate Penalty competitors can easily fake multiple complaints and bring down website ranking down without due process & create a chaos in the search engine algorithm.

    Imagine searching for facebook and facebook are ranked maybe on the 3rd page instead of the first because of “pirate penalty” by over zealous content owner’s complaints of “embeds” of youtube videos?

    I think google search will go down in history as another altavista or yahoo…a new search engine will spring up pretty soon I guess.

  • Tohe

    Once it loses its utility, Google search will see its numbers drop. As a data driven company I expect them to correct this self destructing course. I just wish we didn’t have to experience this unfortunate situation. I guess entities (like humans) have to learn from their own mistakes.

  • DocSheldon

    Nice piece, Danny. It is interesting that Google seems to have evolved from being exempt from their own established guidelines to invulnerability for their own “efforts” to help control infringement. I suspect that if/when the issue ever faces a judge’s interpretation, they may have put a bullet in their own foot. This is demonstrably favoring their own internet properties over those of their competition, as well as all others.

    On the other side of the issue, it would be nice to see copyright infringement claims that are found to be false result in punitive action against the party making the claim.

    Google has obviously evolved into more than just a search engine, but it seems as though their management philosophy for their other businesses has overflowed into how they do business in search. I find it difficult to imagine that the company’s leadership is so dense as to not see the problems this will create. That leaves the next most logical conclusion – they really think they are immune. More likely, the fines they could incur are minuscule in comparison to the profits they reap.

    Is Kent Walker on vacation? Can he really be advising in favor of this? Or perhaps not, and his counsel is simply being ignored.

  • Jerry Mosher

     I wouldn’t go so far as to say it would reduce the value to less than any other search engine but some value may be lost.

    The main effect will be a little less duplicate content and lower ranking torrent sites which will have little to no impact on online digital piracy(people who illegally torrent don’t use search engines to do it).

    I think the biggest issue here is that Google will treat their online properties(Youtube) differently than others.

  • drWho2728

    Your entire post is speculation and FUD. If you look at the page on the google transparency page:

    you can see requests received by Google search for takedown of youtube URLs. I would imagine that if those requests were legitimate then they would have similar effect on rankings of youtube results in Google search. 

    Considering youtube provides its own takedown mechanism, most requesters would likely use that then send takedown requests to google search. Similarly, other content sites which respond to takedown requests sent to them directly should remain unaffected if the requests are never sent to “Google search”. Not sure what is so hard to grasp here?

  • Danny Sullivan

    You believe that over the past year that YouTube has had only 682 removal requests filed against it? If it’s that small a number, why does YouTube have a mass removal program?

    You’re looking at the relatively few YouTube web page request that have been received, not the YouTube video removals that have been logged — which might be in the thousands or higher.

    That’s the point of why I explained how YouTube has its own takedown mechanism as being important here. None of those requests appear to get logged as web page takedowns, which are what will be used for the coming penalty.

    That’s the heart of all of this, and I think you don’t grasp the importance, sorry.

  • DocSheldon

     Agreed. I’d be surprised if YouTube doesn’t receive more than 682 requests in a single month! But as Danny says, that’s not the real point. Why do takedowns count against other properties, but not against a Google property?

  • Alan

    Thats nice

  • VengaMooo

    Sounds like one heck of a plan to me dude. Wow.

  • robthespy

    Freedoms have been erroding For as long as I can remember.

    What freedoms specifically are you so passionate about? A publicly traded company’s freedom to steal content and profit from it?

    Their freedom to bypass users explicit security settings?

    Their freedom to use the data collected from you for anything they decide to do now and in the future?

    America- F. Yeah!

    Oh, Google operates in over 60 other countries…so get over yourself.

  • Arrby

    I have been steadily filtering Google out of my life. I greatly regret not pursuing, more aggressively, some way (which means someone with more tech knowhow than myself) to set up Thunderbird. Gmail is all of Google that I now permit on my pc – willingly. I will resume my filtering efforts as they apply to this company which certainly knows how to do evil carefully. They, like murderous corporatocracy governments (including the big one whose president gets a kick out of murdering people with nifty high tech toys), are all about a form of law & order. It’s law and order that is controlling and for the benefit of parasites rather than about actual law and order that normal people would welcome.

  • Josh Alexander

    Great news for video Marketers

  • Jordan Meeter

    Why does Google continually take these actions? Why can’t they just be the unbiased third party who promotes frequently demanded and linked content to the top and push down irrelevant  spammy stuff? Why not just stay out of it?

  • Isaac Hayes

    doesn’t Google own YouTube

  • Danny Sullivan

    Yes. That’s why the opening paragraph says, “Google’s own YouTube.”

  • drWho2728

    Yes, I agree that the total number of takedown requests for youtube content must be much higher than 682, but those numbers are requests sent to Google search.

    My point is that other video hosting sites have mechanisms for takedown (though maybe not as sophisticated as youtube’s) e.g. or

  • Neal Lehman

    Its not stealing when you volunteer your information.  There are many other search options, also the option to not use the internet  Stealing is taking something without consent….

  • robthespy

    I’m referring to content being posted to YouTube without permission.

  • rt

    Google’s motto: Do know evil!

  • Durant Imboden

    Aren’t YouTube results fed into the SERPs in a different way than third-party sites are, just as results for Maps, News, etc. are? In other words, aren’t they blended into the “Web” results with a “Universal Search” algorithm, rather than being served up from the main index?

    If that’s the case (and I believe it is), it stands to reason that factors used in the main index’s search algorithm wouldn’t affect YouTube results.

  • Danny Sullivan

    Yes, they might appear via Google Video though Universal Search, as I covered above. And, as covered above, this again means that there’s a type of immunity, because other video sites that appear that way still get reported as “web search” issues.

  • Durant Imboden

    Well, there’s no reason why YouTube or Blogger *should* be treated like other sites, because they’re owned by Google and Google can deal with infringements at the account level (which isn’t the case with third-party sites).

  • robthom

     French people.

  • robthom

    I miss Altavista.

  • robthom

    Gmail was the first thing I got rid of 6 months ago when google tried to force me to tie it to my pre-existing youtube account.

    I’ll still use youtube without signing in to rip mp3′s from video’s.

    Unfortunately I’ve also still been tied to google search engine for deep internet searching,
    but now I’ll be actively looking and hoping for an alternative.

  • Arrby

    I have no ability to assess (in any special capacity) Ixquick, but that’s what I’ve been using for a while. As while, I have (finally) begun browsing in ‘private browsing’ mode, which is easy enough to do. I have no doubt that corporatocracy governments can cut through any of that locked door approach, but it’s all one can do – until we crush fascism. Again.

  • Alan

    I do also. Site with most keywords spammed in title tag wins!!!

  • Daniel Petroski

    Wow a surprise reaction from a Frenchie. Big shock, you socialist douchebag.

  • Pierre Gardin

    I heard your mum ask after you, Internet terror.

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