New Research Says Search Engines Have Little To Do With Promoting Pirated Content

google-bing-piracy-featuredA new research paper authored by Matt Schruers and published by the Computer & Communications Industry Association argues that search engines have been unfairly targeted in the quest to impede online copyright infringement.

According to the paper, the perception is that search engines are the primary culprit in copyright infringement cases, offering visibility to unlawful and pirated content. But, Schruers writes, “the contention that disappearing undesirable entries from search results would substantially prevent piracy is flawed” and “the solutions to online infringement have little to do with search.”

Schruers points out that evidence shows actual infringing “rogue” sites, like the Pirate Bay or Isohunt, receive very little little traffic from search. The author cites current (and sometimes questionable) ratings that show only about 8 percent of the traffic to the Pirate Bay arrives via Google. Also, according to the paper, Isohunt, has claimed that less than a quarter of its traffic comes from search, predicting it could, “…survive even a complete search engine ban.”

To further support his case, Schruers references a July 2013 study commissioned by the music website Spotify that reported commercial options for online content proved effective at diminishing online piracy. He also cites research around the introduction of Netflix and Spotify to Norway, which resulted in an 80 percent drop in music piracy and a 50 percent drop in video piracy for the country.

Schruers sums it up this way:

Many music sites now demonstrate an acute awareness of the importance of a strong digital presence, and generally demonstrate effective organic and paid search optimization. Searches for such terms as “music downloads” indicate that lawful platforms such as Spotify,, and Rdio aggressively seek to optimize their organic (i.e. “natural”) search results as well as paid search advertising for such terms, including terms that might otherwise lead to unlicensed sites.

Schruers recommends that lawful sites be more aggressive with their SEO tactics, offering up Netflix’s poor optimization around content for the show “Breaking Bad” as an example. According to Schruers’s research, Netflix’s robot.txt file prevents search indexing of the Netflix “Breaking Bad” page. “The fact that Netflix’s ‘Breaking Bad’ description page content goes unindexed may impair the search ranking for that show, from that platform,” writes Schruers.

The goal is for lawful sites, like Netflix, to create richer, more optimized content and leverage the content to its fullest extent so that it rises above search results for rogue sites that act as hosts for unlawful content.

In the end, the Schruers pushes both content licensees and licensors to leverage more effective SEO tactics to increase the search engine visibility of lawful content, making the case that promoting “the page rank of lawful sites” and increasing the “visibility of legitimate online content offering” is the most effective way to fight online copyright infringement.

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Google: Legal | Google: Pirate Update | Google: SEO | Legal: Copyright | SEO - Search Engine Optimization


About The Author: is Third Door Media's General Assignment Correspondent, and reports on the latest news and updates for Marketing Land and Search Engine Land. From 2009 to 2012, she was an award-winning syndicated columnist for a number of daily newspapers from New York to Texas. With more than ten years of marketing management experience, she has contributed to a variety of traditional and online publications, including,, and Sales and Marketing Management Magazine. Read more of Amy's articles.

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  • Michael Martinez

    His concluding paragraph is naive. Matt Schruers has been writing on IPR with respect to online music infringement for years. I don’t think there is any point in questioning his knowledge of how online infringement occurs but if it were as simple as “focusing on strategic search engine optimization … so as to promote the page rank (sic) of lawful sites” a lot of other Websites would have resolved their own IPR issues that have nothing to do with illegal music downloads. He doesn’t seem to understand the scope of the search problem (which is itself only one part of the greater IPR puzzle).

  • aaronwallseo

    There are numerous issues with that research. The biggest being that defensive behavior is quick-cheap-easy to implement (& many ad resellers/campaign managers benefit from mixing branded ad performance in with unbranded), whereas some of the darker behaviors will take time to impact the market as the social norms get re-established around what is possible & practiced.

    One of the big issues with the “legit” sites is that if they are widely trusted they will become more abusive in terms of user behavior. YouTube itself was founded on piracy, with one of the co-founders proudly posting pirated content to it. And yet now that YouTube is widely trusted & “legit” I kept seeing unskipable 30-second pre-roll ads before content. Even if I refreshed to see a different ad, I kept seeing the same unskipable ad 4 or 5 times in a row before they finally gave me a different ad unit.

    I have also seen some sites that had copyright restrictions based on region or such where they wouldn’t let the content load, but they would use your browser & bandwidth to loop through as many ads as they could while you were there not watching any of the content.

    So long as online advertising CPMs outside of the search channel are significantly below the CPMs on TV then of course the legit sites have every incentive to screw with usability of their site to make it a bit worse, in the hopes of slowing the shift of consumer behavior away from TV to the web.

    Of course search engines have an incentive to rank pirated content (even beyond direct ad revenue from their ad networks), because the existence of pirate options is leverage they can use in order to negotiate better terms with big media companies when striking up direct relationships with them.

  • abigail_rocket_blast

    That seems contradictory – if pirate sites get very little of their traffic from search engines, how will improving SEO for lawful sites help matters? Surely if users are going to the Pirate Bay or wherever directly anyway, having Netflix appear top for a search they’re not making is irrelevant?

  • Kyle Eggleston

    They are all responsible for following the law. The downloader, the host and any middle man.

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