Pirate Update

Pirate update or “DMCA penalty” refers to a change to Google’s search algorithm which is primarily directed against websites that infringe on copyrights. These are often torrent sites that offer pirated copies of movies or music for illegal download via torrent file. Websites that are affected by the Pirate update, may be partially or completely excluded from the Google search index.


Google has evolved steadily as a search engine since its launch in 1997. Users can find more on the web today than before. At the same time, many more sources with illegal content can be found with Google. This includes websites with content that constitutes copyright infringement.

While spam is a major problem for Google which can endanger the popularity of AdWords ads, copyright violations by websites were not being focused on for a long time. the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was implemented in the US back in 1998. It is a law that aims to strengthens the rights of copyright holders and also criminalizes the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material. The music, film, and gaming industry were behind the implementation of this law.

It may be assumed that Google was probably eventually forced to act due to pressure by the DMCA lobbies and reacted with the Pirate update in May 2012 to handle increasing copyright infringements on the web and has since been supporting copyright protection.[1] In contrast to the virtually automatically running algorithm adjustments such as the Panda update or the Penguin update, the data for the DMCA penalty gets collected with a specific form, which Google has provided since 2012.

In October 2014, the Pirate update was refreshed. Mainly torrent sites were affected by the algorithm adjustments. The long pause between the first rollout of the update and its refresh in 2014 can be interpreted to mean that Google could have used the intervening time to collect as much data on copyright infringements as possible and to then refocus its algorithm based on that.


The Pirate update is closely linked to reports of copyright infringements, which any webmaster can inform Google of with a special form. Prerequisite for the report is a valid Google account.

Google collects these message based DMCA takedown requests through its own form and evaluates them. If such complaints pile up, the webmaster concerned will receive a message via the Google Search Console, provided the website in question is registered there.

Google publishes data about requests to remove content from Google’s SERPs in its “Transparency Report.” Following the introduction of the Pirate update in 2012, Google has collected so much data that it can control affected sites better. The solution is no longer to banish corresponding results from the index, but they are not being prominently listed anymore and Google will favor the copyrights holders and list them better. At the same time, advertisements are supposed to help in finding legal content with specific search requests.

The autocomplete function is affected by the new update. Thus certain terms are excluded by the autocomplete function in advance.[2]

Since its launch, Google’s “takedown notices” have been heavily used worldwide. There is even an increase in the numbers. According to one study, the notices increased in 2014 by 75 percent compared to 2013.[3]


The Pirate update has been praised on its first rollout both by the authorities and by the entertainment industry. And at the same time there is also a point of criticism. Google has strengthened the positions of the copyright holders enormously since the refresh. Legal paid content is promoted via Google AdWords as well. The alleged protection of the copyright holders therefore strengthens the revenue sources of the entertainment and advertising industries. It also becomes clear with the Pirate update that the search engine company often breaks the boundaries between business and politics by applying its own rules for the interpretation of legal issues and “censors” the search results. Advocates of a free Internet have accused Google of this for a long time.

At the same time, the reasons for algorithm adaptations often remain poorly defined. Copyright infringements can be reported not only by the holders of the copyrights themselves, but also by other users. Thus negative SEO would be possible under the Pirate update.[4]

Another possible point of criticism of Google’s Pirate update is its relatively imprecise execution. Although the filters already extract many results from illegal torrent providers from the SERPs especially for the film and TV industry, there are obviously many gaps. Certainly names of movies, actors or characters can be reliably detected, but when users search with a term combination specifically for the illegal content using Google, the copyright infringing content is shown.[5]. Google is probably still working on refining its algorithms to combat movie piracy and protect copyrights. But perhaps this problem will continue to exist as long as the server and URLs quickly change under which the illegally copied and provided content can be accessed. Basically, the Pirate update can be regarded as a kind of blunt weapon against piracy. Because the filter does not prevent content from being created and accessed, only the SERPs get cleaned up. If a user knows the correct address where he can download or stream pirated copies, they won’t need Google.

Consequences for SEO

With the Pirate Update 2014, Google has readjusted the screws on copyright infringement. Caution is advised for sites that primarily work with pictures and videos. If there are multiple reports of copyright infringement, these sites are at risk of being badly positioned on the SERPs. Therefore, it is very important to always list the author or sources for any images, videos, or media that is not your own. This additional work has another positive side effect, because the risk of warnings will be minimized[6]


  1. Digital Millennium Copyright Act support.google.com. Accessed on 10/27/2014
  2. Continued progress on fighting piracy googlepublicpolicy.blogspot.de Accessed on 10/27/2014
  3. Google Link Removal Requests Climb to 345 Million in 2014 searchengineland.com Accessed on 05/27/2015
  4. Google Pirate Update rolled out extreme-seo.net. Accessed on 10/27/2014
  5. Getting better, but Google still has work on piracy: The Game of Thrones Story searchengineland.com Accessed on 05/27/2015
  6. Continued progress on fighting piracy googlepublicpolicy.blogspot.de. Accessed on 10/27/2014

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