The Pirate Update: All You Need to Know
Users often forget about copyright on the Internet, which is why there is so much plagiarism on the web. However, it is regulated by law. Google contributes to this with the help of the Pirate Update algorithm. In this article, we will look at the intricacies of US intellectual property law in the digital space, explain how Google’s anti-piracy algorithm works, how to protect your content, and what to do if you are accused of plagiarism.
What Is the DMCA?
DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) is a US law adopted in 1998; it protects digital copyright. The full text of the law is published on the website of the US Congress, but you can familiarize yourself with its provisions on the official website of the DMCA.
Generally, the law:
- Shifts responsibility for copyright infringement from providers to users;
- Introduces responsibility for the production of technologies that help circumvent copyright protection tools;
- It introduces liability for a direct violation of the copyright in the digital space, such as illegal copying and distribution of materials.
DMCA protects all types of digital content, including text, pictures, video, and sound, as well as the owners of that content. Thus, by publishing the original post on your blog, you automatically fall under the DMCA protection and can file a complaint if you notice that someone has copied content to their site and is posing as the author.
To file a complaint, you need to register your site on the service.
If the service discovers that the content is distributed illegally, it will send a notification to the webmaster about a complaint with the requirement to remove the content. The webmaster is obligated to do this, even if it was published by another user (for example, YouTube removes videos that violate copyright on its own). If a webmaster refuses to remove illegal content, both the user and the webmaster will be subject to civil or criminal liability.
DMCA is part of US law, but the service handles complaints of illegal distribution of content regardless of the country since the law implements international obligations to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). DMCA can be used as a basis for prosecuting a citizen of any country that is part of WIPO, which today includes 189 countries.
Google’s DMCA Algorithm
Filing a complaint through the official DMCA site is not the only way to claim that your content has been stolen. An alternative option is to file a complaint through Google. Such an opportunity appeared in 2012 when the search engine implemented the Pirate Update algorithm. But there were many complaints about its work, so in 2014 Google updated it.
The Pirate Update is DMCA compliant. This system is an algorithm for tracking copyright infringement. It is also the service through which any webmaster can submit a request to remove their content. That being said:
1. Google removes suspicious content from search results.
2. Instead of showing a link to plagiarism in search results, it displays a notice that access to the materials has been blocked as a result of copyright infringement. Google also publishes a link to the complaint that led to the blocking of this content.
If the site owner has registered it in Google Search Console, then Google will notify the owner of the complaint by email linked to the resource. You can also check if there are complaints about your site (or any other) in the Lumen database for free.
Also, the algorithm removes search suggestions for pirate sites and also reduces the number of services in the search results for queries like “free movies download, watch movies online for free,” and similar. Thus, the Pirate Update algorithm affects torrent trackers, music and movie sites, etc.
The Impact of DMCA on SEO
Google removes resources that have complaints against them from search results, and these complaints have been confirmed on the DMCA violation. Thus, site traffic drops significantly because all SEO activities are aimed at getting to the top of the SERP and engaging the user to click on your site in search results. If your resource is not present in the SERP at all, you lose a massive percentage of potential buyers who could find you on Google.
Unfortunately, Google DMCA takedown continues to affect SEO results after you have dealt with the situation and removed non-unique content. It also affects pages without pirated content.
Amit Singhal, Google’s senior vice president, said that the search engine uses DMCA data as one of its ranking factors. In an official blog post, Amit Singhal stated that Pirate’s algorithm ranks sites complained of for copyright infringement worse than legitimate sites. It is especially true for services with poor DMCA statistics and numerous complaints.
Look at the traffic to a site that was the subject of a complaint in July 2020, per data from the Lumen database:
How to Inform About Copyright Infringement
To report to Google that your content has been stolen, submit a request to Search Console. The form was previously available in the DMCA Dashboard (the page still exists), but now you can apply through the Legal Help section:
To file a complaint, you need to indicate:
- To which Google product your request relates. It can be not only a search engine but also Maps, Google Drive, YouTube, or any other company service.
- What exactly Google should do in response to your request. The system cannot remove pirated content from someone else’s site on its own, but it can send a notification to its webmaster. You can also complain about the dissemination of your personal information on the site or ask to clear the search results. Sometimes there are failures, i.e., pirated content has already been removed from the site, but the link to it is still present in the search results.
- Type of violation. In this section, content and brand are treated as separate categories. You can also select the Dissemination technology category to help circumvent copyright.
- Are you a content author? If not, you will not be able to file a complaint.
How to Protect Against Content Theft
If we talk about protection as something that will prevent an intruder from stealing your content, then watermarks on images and software blocking from copying text will come in handy. We say they will come in handy but not help because these techniques cannot give a 100% guarantee that the content will not be stolen: watermarks can be removed using image processing programs, and the text can be copied by other technical means.
Another disadvantage of using these techniques is that you can scare away not only intruders but also users. For example, a block for copying text may appear when a person wants to copy an email to paste it into the form. And watermarks on images impair their perception.
However, these methods will help to protect against automated attacks. For example, a robot is unlikely to bypass the text copy block.
You can strengthen protection if you approach the issue from the other side. It is not the theft itself that does the most harm to the owner, but confusion in the search networks: it is difficult to determine where the content was first published. As a result, cybercriminals steal your traffic and appear at the TOP search positions instead of you. Also, you may be subject to DMCA sanctions instead of the real culprit.
Use the following techniques to avoid unpleasant situations and always be able to prove that you have not committed Google copyright infringement:
- Officially register your trademark. This way, you will have evidence that the name and logo belong only to you, and it is illegal for someone else to use them.
- Check with law firms that deal with intellectual property and can issue a certificate confirming that you own the content. Unfortunately, this method is only suitable for original materials, i.e. those that you created yourself and not that you use under a license (for example, you legally bought on stock).
- Leave mentions of your company in the texts. Attackers need to edit such content before uploading it to their website, which is tedious work and not always possible to do carefully. Thus, there is a chance that they will not remove all of your brandings.
- Notify Google every time you post new content, such as a blog article. You can do this in the Search Console. A screenshot with the date added will serve as sufficient proof that you published the text first.
- Announce new posts on social media.
- Sign contracts with all the creators who create content for you so that they cannot resell the completed work.
Also, it is recommended to check the content for theft regularly. Choose the optimal regularity, quarterly or monthly, depending on the traffic level and the popularity of the resource. The more popular the site, the higher the likelihood of theft because its content is easier to find – it is in the first positions of the search results.
You can check the content as follows:
- Through anti-plagiarism tools. If the text is stolen then services will find it on other sites.
- Through a Google search. Portions of text must be typed in the search bar in quotation marks (search by exact query) to do this.
- You can check images through Google Images or TinEye.
What to Do If You have been Complained About by Mistake
Since DMCA complaints negatively impact site traffic, competitors can exploit them. Also, there are situations when plagiarism is checked through automatic tools, and they fail. Both cases can result in an erroneous complaint.
If you have Search Console connected, you will immediately receive an email that there is a complaint filed against you. The answer to the question “Should I be worried about a copyright infringement notice?” depends on how guilty you are. Check everything. Perhaps you thought that the author had created content only for you but then resold it to another company. You must be sure that you are innocent and can prove it.
If you have evidence that the complaint is wrong, please respond with a counter-notification. The link to the form will be included in the complaint notification.
In the Details column, provide all evidence that you are the owner of the original content. If you cannot collect it on your own, seek legal advice.
If it turns out that you have posted someone else’s content by mistake, remove it. In this case, the address of the page on which it was posted will remain unavailable for search results, so post new content on a new page.