Should Google Recommend Downloading Illegal Copyright Works via Torrents? What About Cracks, Serials, Keygens, etc.?

I was just finishing up our guide to how to optimize for search suggestion, and noticed something worth discussing.

I am not sure if safe harbor covers companies that index content, cache/host content, and suggest searches for downloading pirated works...but if it does, I think the law needs changed. It seems Google could have thought about the torrent related keyword suggestions before launching search suggest as a default.

Part of the reason why I had to change my business model was the need for a more interactive higher value service, but another big part of it was also that I saw this sort of activity coming. It is too hard to create valuable information and sell it in a digital format unless it is broken up into pieces, is time sensitive, and/or has interactive elements added to it.

If you think Google respects copyright you are wrong. All content wants to be free, and, preferably hosted by Google, wrapped in AdSense.

Published: September 26, 2008 by Aaron Wall in google


September 26, 2008 - 11:32pm

OK just got my copy, plus I met three girls in my area all on the same site!!!
Kidding. But in all seriousness, you would think big G would be smart enough to run some sort of filter to help protect copyright infringements.

September 27, 2008 - 12:18am

Surely, Google means that there is a torrent of good info in your book :.)

September 27, 2008 - 1:00am

If you wanted to do something about it without spending a dime, notify all the large companies like Adobe of this, type "Adobe CS" and a ton of stuff Adobe wouldn't want pops up. "torrent, crack, keygen, serial".


September 27, 2008 - 2:26am

Aaron, I don't think Google can be blamed for this kind of piracy any more than Napster could be blamed for the decline in music industry profits. I think Google is suggesting it because people are searching for it. It would be far worse to see Google censoring at that level. It's not really Google's place to enforce copyright law, and thank god for that too. You're really on the right track with the changes in your business, and I think that it's only the tip of the iceberg. Information, such as an ebook, is really impossible to control once it's out there. Business should plan for that. You made a name for yourself with your ebook. Now that you've changed your business model, why not encourage people to share your old ebook? I don't see any downside of it now, you're going to benefit by having it more widely distributed. Why not even take it a step further and get it published in print? The more people that read your book, the more people that are exposed to you, and the more doors open up for you in the future.

September 27, 2008 - 5:41pm

I think Google is suggesting it because people are searching for it. It would be far worse to see Google censoring at that level. It's not really Google's place to enforce copyright law, and thank god for that too.

Core to their marketing they assumed the role of moral authority and began policing how other people linked. They should also police what they link to (or at the very least what they advocate/recommend).

Now that you've changed your business model, why not encourage people to share your old ebook?

The hard thing about such a decision is that it can not be undone.

September 27, 2008 - 7:11am

Aaron, you are sadly mistaken if you think Google could or should do something about this. In your post you made a couple of big assumptions:
a) you assumed that there was copyright material at the end of that search result. That could be just a garbage link which takes you to a garbage site, all designed to suck in the unwary with the intention of leading them around in circles looking for the copyrighted content, all the while showing advertisements or bombarding the visitor with drive-by malware.
b) A torrent file is not illegal, nor does it contain illegal material - it is simply a descriptor (metadata) file which tells the bittorrent client where to find something.
c) Why should Google block it, when it may not be illegal in my country? Are you suggesting that Google be held accountable to every tiny little peculiar law in every soveriegn nation?
d) Just pointing (indexing) to something which may or may not be illegal should not be illegal in itself. Should a phone directory be considered guilty if they list the number of a drug dealer, when they have no way of knowing that the number belongs to the dealer or what his line of business is?

Your musings are especially funny considering the line of business you are in - to force Google and the other major search engines to kowtow to the wishes of the content providers would destroy search as we know it, and would consequently destroy your line of work. There is no point trying to optimise content for search rankings when all results are heavily filtered and/or censored. You would end up with a situation similar to China - you don't see anything that the government doesn't want you to see.

You are right in saying that information wants to be free. You will never beat the bad guys, they will always find some way to steal your content, if it is worthy of stealing. The secret is you must create content that people don't mind paying for, at a price point that they can stomach.

September 27, 2008 - 5:37pm

It is one thing to index content and quite another to recommend searches clearly associated with illegal the cracks, warez, and torrent searches.

Also if you search for "how to make a " one of their suggestions is how to make a bomb.

Perhaps search engines and ad networks should be amoral and recommend anything that sells. But given how much Google wants to police the link structure of the web you would think they could hold themselves to a higher standard.

September 27, 2008 - 11:43am

a search filter would be fine i guess. since they have filter for adult content...

September 29, 2008 - 11:59am


You made the right choice moving away from the book to a personal service. That's where the future is. Copyright is already flailing around on its last legs and will be dead pretty soon. Music will be the first to go - piracy will only increase exponentially, it will never decrease. The cat is out of the bag.

The future is in services. Stuff that can't be copied instantly and perfectly.

Let the book roam free through the torrent sites as a great advert for you :)

Chris Marshall
September 29, 2008 - 8:36pm

Aaron, I would have expected you to hold the #1 rank for "seo book torrent", and to employ some other counter-tactics besides?

September 29, 2008 - 10:42pm

Hi Chris
I thought it better to give this post a good title...and then maybe change it later.

October 1, 2008 - 3:13pm

Slugster - Yes, information wants to be free in the sense that a) the truth always wants to come out and b) people are free to pick and choose among a wide array of information sources to get whatever information they need. This does not, however, mean that others can just republish the content that Aaron, I, or anyone else, for that matter, created, with or without monetization.

The function of a search engine is to organize the world's information and help users to find what they need. With this, however, comes the moral authority to determine the originating source as well as to minimize the ability of others to profit from my work simply by republishing it on their own sites (or, in the case of a torrent system, to diminish my profits by making it available). If no one is able to profit from the intellectual property that they create -- be it an artist, a musician, an author, a news provider, etc. etc. -- then there isn't going to be anyone left to actually create art or provide information in the first place.

The onus to get this right is even greater for Google because of the moral authority that, as Aaron pointed out, the company has assumed, from its "Don't be evil" campaign to the way in which it has chosen to police certain aspects of the internet's structure.

Oddly, though, Google is the biggest offender when it comes to failing to find the original source. It also is the easiest search engine in which one can find a host of torrents for anything a person wants to steal without really having to look specifically for them. This is akin to contributory infringement, the same argument that brought Napster to a screeching halt.

Google can make as many blog posts as it wants defending itself on this issue, but it doesn't change the fact that they remain horrible at resolving these issues accurately and fairly. Google has created a two-tiered system in which some sites (big corporations, adsense partners) are treated one way and others (everyone else) are treated completely differently.

A lot of this has to do with Google's continued adherence to what has become a flawed system of logic. Its belief that the number of links a page or a site has received (or how big it is) equates to its usefulness might have been sustainable when the internet was an academic playground. This idea collapsed a long time ago. It no longer is true that the popularity of a page equates to what is the best, most accurate, and most useful page on a topic.

There also is the increasing appearance that Google favors its own. To organize the world's information based around who most helps Google's bottom line is ripe for abuse, and it reeks of the very same censorship that those who tout the "information wants to be free" line use to defend the company.

What is actually rather amusing is that the longer this debate rages and the longer Google takes to act on these issues, the worse its search results become. They certainly haven't helped themselves either by actively indexing and ranking social media sites as well as the ridiculous number of news aggregators, which now come in all kinds of different forms. None of these types of sites really add INFORMATION -- they just reorganize it. So, why Google chooses to rank them is beyond me.

There will be a tipping point for Google, after which it will fall a few pegs in the eyes of users. Perhaps, we already have seen the first step with Google's UAL gaffe. Google's highly identifiable brand name will help to push this tipping point further off into the distance, but it won't delay it indefinitely, especially if the company continues to bury its head in the sand and act like an arrogant giant.

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