And yet, despite that access and affordability, piracy continues to threaten its business model. Making matters worse, major search engines routinely prioritize illegal pirate websites over legitimate sites in their search results.
Recently, CNN published an article about Netflix’s ongoing struggle to keep their would-be paying customers from watching stolen copies of their original shows for free. Unfortunately, online searches for the third season of Netflix’s critically acclaimed “Orange is the New Black” turn up some disheartening results.
Netflix is fighting to keep people away from websites streaming illegal copies of its newly released third season of the show ‘Orange is the New Black.’
It’s just too easy to find pirated versions.
Consider a Google search for the term “Orange is the New Black season 3.” Five websites pop up with names like CareerPuppy.com, PutLocker.is and Series-Cravings.me.
In fact, the legitimate link to Netflix isn’t even the number one search result. That actually goes to some website called CouchTuner.eu.
That means Google and Yahoo consider an illegal streaming site registered in Sweden more relevant to your search than the real thing.
The results are similar on other top search sites. A pirate site beats Netflix on Yahoo search. And while Microsoft Bing and DuckDuckGo show Netflix first, the illegal options are right below.
For Netflix, it’s a battle of links.
The Netflix business model is based on licensing a set amount of film and television titles – in addition to some original programming – and providing it on a convenient digital platform at an attractive price. In turn, Netflix invests the revenue from its subscribers in licensing agreements and original productions that compensate creatives for their work.
According to BGR, the scope of the problem is growing:
As the popularity of Netflix’s stable of exclusive shows continues to skyrocket, one can only imagine that Netflix will become all the more vigilant in combating piracy going forward. But as HBO’s experience combating Game of Thrones piracy indicates, doing so is a lot easier said than done.
The problem that companies like Netflix and HBO face is that most Internet search engines are far more likely to bring up piracy sites during a search than bring up the company’s dedicated streaming site. One way Netflix thought of dealing with the problem is by fighting to beat out the links of those piracy sites. Though this is a valiant effort, the truth of the matter is it’s incredibly easy to find sites with illegal streams since these sites appear ahead of the official links, hindering non-subscribers from finding ways to get to the official streaming links for their favorite shows.
It’s good to see that mainstream media outlets are finally starting to recognize and report on the significant role that search engines play in facilitating online piracy. Search engines have long been serving up results to known pirate sites. According to a 2013 survey conducted by Millward Brown Digital, nearly three out of four consumers said they had used a search engine the first time they arrived at a pirate site. And 58% of surveyed individuals found pirated movies and TV shows online through apparently innocent searches, such as entering the title of a film or TV show, or a generic phrase like “watch TV.”
Netflix has also become increasingly more vocal about its piracy problem. In a recent SEC filing, Netflix lists pirate websites as a top “competitor” along with other legal online providers and DVD rental outlets. But like any media company, Netflix cannot compete with “free” stolen copies of its own product. Nor should they have to.
The status quo is unacceptable. It’s a never-ending game of whack-a-mole, in which content owners bear the burden of reporting links to illegal copies of their products – only to have pirate site operators post new links once those are taken down, with those links showing up immediately again in search results. Legitimate businesses are always one step behind criminals who profit from stolen creative content with impunity.
Millions of removal requests are sent to search engines every day by content owners. Over time, that must make for some pretty rich cumulative data. Given all the technical expertise at leading search engines, surely they can find an effective way to prevent search results from pointing to the exact same known pirate sites over and over and over again.
All legitimate businesses that operate online should have a shared interest in a legal digital marketplace for creative content. For Netflix and other online platforms that distribute creative content to survive and thrive, the creative community needs a real partner in search engines.
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