Pirating TV just got a lot harder
ENDING piracy for good has long seemed like a never-ending game of cat and mouse.
As soon as an infringing website is shut down, four or five mirror sites instantly appear in its place.
Google investigates take-down requests and removes an infringing website if it's found to be soliciting piracy - and so far the number of removed web addresses has reached 3.5 billion.
But now the search engine has ramped up its efforts to put an end to piracy, by blocking web addresses before they even appear in search results.
The fresh approach began earlier this year when Google copyright lawyer Caleb Donaldson announced the company had started to block non-indexed links pre-emptively.
"Google has critically expanded notice and take-down in another important way: We accept notices for URLs that are not even in our index in the first place. That way, we can collect information even about pages and domains we have not yet crawled," he wrote in intellectual property law journal Landslide.
"We process these URLs as we do the others. Once one of these not-in-index URLs is approved for take-down, we prophylactically block it from appearing in our search results."
Mr Donaldson added that artificial intelligence would help Google ensure piracy websites remained hidden from the public eye.
"As we move into a world where artificial intelligence can learn from vast troves of data like these, we will only get better at using the information to better fight against piracy," he said.
While Google has been actively blocking non-indexed links for a number of months, the tech giant hadn't offered up information on how many copyright-infringing URLs were removed without even appearing on the search engine.
This all changed last week with a new update in Google's transparency report showing which URLs had been put on a blacklist to prevent them from being added in the future.
The report shows companies such as Fox, Walt Disney and NBC Universal were all involved in flagging URLs, however anti-piracy group APDIF is the most active with more than 90 per cent of its take-down requests appearing to be non-indexed links.
While it's not flawless, Google seems certain the move will greatly diminish access to illegal piracy websites.
THE OTHER PIRACY PROBLEM
Taking a proactive approach to blocking piracy sites will make it harder for users to illegally download their favourite films and shows for free, but there is another risk rights holders face.
People are now using plug-and-play set-top boxes to stream an array of subscription channels using third-party applications.
Creative Content Australia executive director Lori Flekser told news.com.au last month that users were stealing TV subscription service signals being delivered to a legitimate subscribers and copying them over to the open-source media player.
"With these devices, users can install a range of third-party add-ons … to access copyright-protected media from across the globe for free," she said.
"Each app looks perfectly legal, like a Netflix platform where you've got a range of content options for everything from TV to movies to sports … and it does look legitimate."
Ms Flekser said research had shown more than one in five Australians were using an illegal pirated app on their media players, with younger Australians the main culprits.
"About a third of teenagers are watching TV through a set-top box device, and about a quarter are using an infringing app," she said.
But for people using this method, things are about to get much harder.
In late April, a ruling in the Federal Court granted Village Roadshow and six Hollywood studios an injunction to block 16 internet addresses that provided this service.
Ms Flekser said the move to stop this marked a significant step forward for the screen industry.
"The Federal Court is realising piracy is more than just The Pirate Bay and 123FreeMovies," she said.
"There are now more tech-savvy ways to access illegal material, and set-top boxes are a way in. It's great the court has recognised that this goes beyond just websites.
"I think it will be interesting for consumers subscribed to soon-to-be blocked services. It's an expensive paperweight, because it doesn't provide them what they paid for, and forces them into this 'buyer beware' situation. Legal services can't just cut you off, but illegal services can."
Ms Flekser added that people were always going to find ways to avoid paying for content, but these court initiatives were a good reminder to pay for movies and TV shows legally.
"We know from our research that if we make it harder for people to find content legally, they'll go straight to The Pirate Bay. Addressing that is the next step," she said.
And this is where Google hopes to come into play.