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Over the past several years, copyright holders have asked Google to remove URLs from five million unique domains. These include blatant pirate sites such as The Pirate Bay, but also legal streaming services such as Netflix and Disney+. What stands out most is that a tiny fraction of all domains are responsible for the majority of the trouble.
Over the past few years, copyright holders have reported more than seven billion copyright-infringing URLs to Google.
At one point, the search engine processed close to three million links per day. A dazzling number to say the least.
In recent years the daily volume has slowly declined. This is in part due to Google’s active policy of making pirate sites less visible in search results. After years of complaints, these efforts were well received by copyright holders.
In response to Google’s enforcement efforts and other anti-piracy measures, some pirate sites regularly switch to new domain names. That can help to get these sites back into the search results, albeit temporarily, since progress often doesn’t last.
This week, the search engine reached a new milestone. Since its records began, Google has now received takedown notices for five million unique domain names.
This ‘achievement’ prompted us to take a close look at the underlying data. Where are all these alleged pirate sites coming from? Who are the main offenders, and which domains shouldn’t be on the list?
The two top-reported domain names, daft.sex and dsex.to, are relatively new. These adult sites were targeted in a massive enforcement effort by Pornhub’s parent company Mindgeek, which previously filed a lawsuit against the sites’ operator in a U.S. federal court.
After the Daftsex site lost its .com domain, it moved to alternatives, which were then targeted by Mindgeek both in court and through Google. The daft.sex and dsex.to domains had only been active for a few months but triggered close to a quarter billion takedown notices in that short period.
The other domain names in the top ten are a mixed bag. In third place, we find file-sharing service 4shared.com with more than 68 million targeted URLs. The majority of these were removed years ago. More recently, 4shared began actively working with rightsholders to prevent piracy by deploying filtering technologies.
The list also includes unknown sites such as mp3toys.xyz. This domain has been inactive for more than half a decade but previously hosted pirated MP3s, triggering over 50 million reported URLs.
While looking through the list of targeted domains it becomes apparent that it’s top-heavy. The 20 domains that were called out most frequently have nearly 750 million flagged URLs. This means that less than two dozen targeted domains account for more than 10% of all notices.
This means that while five million domains is an impressive number, it doesn’t mean that all pose an equal threat. There’s a long tail of sites that were targeted less than a handful of times.
Overall, we can say that the majority of the five million reported domains are only flagged incidentally. These may be smaller pirate sites or sites exploited by scammers to post spam links. However, it’s also very common for legitimate sites to be targeted, often by mistake.
The five million figure includes a wide variety of domains that obviously don’t deserve the ‘pirate’ brand. This includes dictionaries, which sometimes list terms that are associated with copyrighted content, for example. The same is true for many reputable news outlets such as The New York Times, the BBC, and TorrentFreak.
Ironically, Google also received takedown requests for pretty much all legitimate streaming platforms. Netflix was flagged 259 times over the years, while Disney+, HBO, Hulu, Paramount+, and many others were reported too. These are all errors, but they still contribute to the overall total.
Rightsholders have also reported Google.com URLs to Google, and not just a handful either. Over the years the company was asked to remove 775,454 Google.com URLs from its own search results.
Finally, it’s worth pointing out that the reported domain names include a lot of variations of the same pirate brands. Some of these are operated by the original owners, but popular names are also hijacked to draw search traffic.
The list of five million domain names includes nearly 1,000 sites that have the phrase “piratebay” in their name and the same is true for “fmovies” and “YTS”. The “123movie” brand takes the crown, however, with well over 3,000 domain name variations.
Overall, it is safe to say that the milestone of five million flagged domains should be seen in the proper context. On the one hand, it consists of a small group of notorious pirate sites. On the other, many more sites don’t deserve the piracy label.
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