Skip links

Google Pirate Update Explained And SEO Recovery From DMCA Violations

The Pirate update: it has nothing to do with treasure hunts but everything to do with copyright infringement. Piracy is a big deal. It has been since the advent of the internet. Realizing this, Google has taken steps to make sure that sites with pirated and stolen content don’t benefit from its platform. With the pirate update, these kinds of sites are down ranked and removed from search results. While not all sites are caught, Google is still working to make sure pirated sites are punished and rights owners don’t suffer from illegal distribution of their content.

Launch Date: August 10, 2012

August 2012 isn’t the first time Google laid down the law on copyright infringement, but it was the major turning point for tracking down and punishing sites that published pirated content.

What Google’s Pirate Update Impacted

There’s only one trigger for the Pirate update, and that’s being a website that publishes pirated content. More specifically, you’ll feel the effects of the update if your site has been reported for copyright infringement that violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

In short, the DMCA issued that’s it’s a criminal offense to provide stolen or pirated media of any kind. Because pirating is such a widespread issue, Google decided to step up their monitoring of pirate sites with an algorithm update. If you’ve got pirated content on your site, and you’ve had multiple copyright infringement reports filed against you—including a report filed by the owner of the material—you’re not only going to be downranked, but you’ll be removed from the SERPs altogether.

How Google’s Pirate Update Works

The pirating of songs, films, video games—essentially any form of digital media or entertainment—is a massive issue. Though Google can’t go through every page on the internet to ensure no pirated material is out there, the Pirate algorithm update targets sites that violate the copyright guidelines set in place by the DMCA.

Every month, Google receives and processes millions of copyright removal notices.  But because Google itself cannot determine if content is pirated—only courts can determine if a copyright has actually been infringed—they don’t remove any pages unless a valid copyright removal notice is submitted by the owner of the rights.

If a site has a report filed against it, and Google determines the report is valid, that site will be severely downranked. Despite the enormity of Google and all the content it has indexed, it still has a reputation to uphold. It wants to work within legal boundaries while simultaneously giving its users exactly what they’re asking for. So if someone enters a query searching for a specific movie, Google wants to avoid giving piracy sites the top slots in their SERPs. The Pirate update makes this possible.

Even if a user enters a movie title with the words “watch,” “download,” or “torrent,” Google automatically filters out free streaming sites and gives legal options, like links to Netflix, Amazon, Google Play, and the like. However, these pirated sites can still be accessed if you search for them directly and by name. They just won’t show up in organic search results if you’re entering in generic queries, like “how to watch [movie] for free.”

How To Fix Your Website If It Was Impacted By The Pirate Update

If you have noticed a steep drop in your rankings and page visits, ask yourself if you’ve got illegal content on your site. This could range from a very obvious copyright infringement—like offering a movie for free to site guests—to something a little less in-your-face, like music in the background of a video on your page. If you are using film or music of any kind without express permission from the owner, you’re breaking copyright law! Sometimes, mistakes are made when you don’t know about these laws or simply aren’t thinking when editing together content. But if you offer pirated media intentionally, stop it! If you’re in the former group and are looking to recover or even prevent a hit by Pirate, here are a couple things you can do:

Remove Content that Violates the DMCA

If you’ve got media that is pirated, remove it. It’s that simple. Take down illegal content, and the Pirate update will have no reason to target and punish you.

Keep Your Main Domain Separate

Many sites, maybe yours included, allows site users to add content to pages. If this is the case, keep your main domain separate from the user-generated content on your site. You can’t always control what people publish, so this will keep you safe despite their mistakes or negligence.

Conclusion

For the general population of site owners, the Pirate update won’t be an issue. Most of the sites that are penalized by Pirate are actual piracy or torrent sites, and they know exactly what they’re doing. Google’s main target with this update are the sites that are intentionally offering pirated content. By downranking them and removing them from organic search results, Google is doing its part to keep the internet clean and free of illegal media.