This post has been updated.
It’s an age of armchair piracy and vicious legal counterattacks.
From Popcorn Time (the “Netflix for piracy”) to Aurus (the Popcorn Time for music), close on the heels of every new free digital entertainment service seems to be a mob of angry copyright holders and their lawyers.
And even Google isn’t safe.
According to piracy-tracking site TorrentFreak, last year Google saw a 60% growth in requests to remove allegedly illegal URLs from search results.
Individuals and industry representatives can submit requests to the search engine to remove results they believe infringe on copyright, making those links difficult to find. In 2015, at least 558,860,089 pages were named for removal using Google’s request form.
According to Google, the biggest targets in the past year were file-sharing sites Chomikuj, RapidGator, and Uploaded.
Though Google follows the US guidelines on copyright infringement, requests come from all over the world—the British Phonographic Industry, which reps 85% of music sold in the UK, and MUSO, with offices in London, Milan, Paris, and Los Angeles, are both top on the list of last year’s accusers. Fox and Walt Disney also had strong showings.
Update (Jan. 6, 2016, 12:36pm ET): It’s not clear exactly how many requests Google complied with last year, but it’s likely pretty high: Between July and December 2011, the search engine removed 97% of requested URLs; in 2013, it was 99%.
As part of their transparency efforts, Google reports the requests. Lumen, a project of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society (formerly called Chilling Effects), collects and publishes many of these requests. When Google does remove results, it provides a link to the URL where it’s preserved on Lumen, to questionable effect.