Major Search Engines Cashing in on Piracy?

It’s bad enough that authors are being gang-raped by file-sharing pirates and content-theft syndicates. And that, thanks to the very law created to protect authors, the Federal government is actually holding authors down while they are being violated. And now the corporations are jumping in.

There is a growing body of evidence that Internet Service Providers and search engines are enabling pirates to ply their activities by generating ad revenue for them. To extend our metaphor, by directing traffic to pirate sites these corporations are acting in the capacity of procurers.

The experience of Morris Rosenthal of Foner Books with what he calls party sites exemplifies how big corporations are tied to copyright infringement. After Google updated its Panda feature, Rosenthal’s website lost a huge amount of traffic. You can read details on WebProNews here.

In Rosenthal’s case the corporation is Google, but we can cite other firms that, deliberately or inadvertently, are shilling for content hijackers. What is worse, as his video reveals, some searches lure the unwary searcher into malware traps.

We invited him to guest-blog for us.


Who profits from copyright infringement?
The greatest myth about internet piracy is that it’s just a bunch of kids sharing digital products which wanted to be free in the first place. Piracy in all of its forms is a business. The scale involved means it’s often a corporate business, complete with stock market listings and highly paid legal talent.

Boiled down to its essence, the business model of online piracy is attracting visitors to a website with content the website owners don’t pay to create. But the marketplace for free content is so large that there’s room for a business model to fit every budget and every shade of grey. The written word is best suited for business models built on copyright infringement because, unlike entertainment products like songs or movies, the value can be unpackaged and disguised.

First we’ll shine some light on the file sharing business, then we’ll take a look at the search dominated business of web page infringements.

The File Sharing Business
File sharing sites specialize in wholesale infringements, complete versions of works. Many publishers like myself have come to see file sharing as a “shrinkage” phenomena, digital shoplifting, because the users of those sites don’t represent lost sales in direct proportion to their numbers. But when the #1 search engine in the world starts promoting a piracy directory as the #1 site for a search on a book title, it becomes an existential issue.

The file sharing directory in this case, one of the top 200 most visited sites in the world according to Alexa, makes its money on advertising which it has the staffing to sell direct. Getting large fast and then going legitimate is another model for copyright infringement, which drove the early growth of YouTube (now owned by Google) and ScribD (now working with trade publishers).

The Ripple Effect

Once a popular work is released on file sharing websites, it proliferates at such a high rate that an author working alone is helpless to regain control. For the last several years, I’ve focused filing Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notices with “legitimate” sites like ScribD, where a normal person could believe they are downloading an eBook that the author and publisher decided to offer for free.

Through purportedly protecting “innocent infringers”, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act has done more to encourage Internet piracy than the invention of the file server.In a typical example, a version of my laptop workbook that I requested ScribD to remove had been edited to remove my name, which had been replaced with “FOR SCRIBD.COM” and the entire copyright and license agreement page was replaced with “INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK

It’s not unusual to find copies of eBooks that have been purchased directly from a publisher website uploaded to ScribD and other sites under the real name of the purchaser. They can do this without fear because it makes no sense, financial or otherwise, for publishers to take individuals to court for copyright infringement.

The Web Page Infringement Business

Authors and publishers should all be happy to hear that content is still king, but unfortunately the search engines are gods. Nothing has brought this home during my sixteen years of publishing online like the Google Panda update of February 23rd that has led to Google promoting many copyright infringers over the original creators.

Reading through the 1,100 plus posts from website publishers in the poorly publicized discussion Google started in their WebMaster Tools forum, the same complaints about copyright infringements now ranking above the originators appear again and again.

The web page or article infringement business exists in many more variations than the file sharing business, with more opportunities for owners of those sites to make money. The biggest abusers are “community” sites that encourage users to post articles without doing a simple test to see if they are plagiarized, and then syndicate those articles to hundreds or thousands of me-too sites, all of which are monetized by advertising networks.

Not surprisingly, the ad network I see most on these sites is the biggest, Google Adsense. The larger community sites that solicit articles are protected by the DMCA and will remove copyright infringements on request, but this comes after they’ve been syndicated all over creation and can’t be recalled. Steering visitors away from large article farms was a major goal of the Google Panda update, but whatever technique they used ended up punishing the victims along with the thieves.

They have the Technology But Won’t Use it

A classier group of copyright infringers are large corporate sites with community sections, such as Yahoo Answers and These large players certainly have access to the technology that could prevent cut-and-paste copyright infringement, but apparently haven’t found it to be in their best interest. While sites like these earn money directly from advertising, the more important consideration is to grow their user base and page count. The page count drives search engine traffic and page views, and the user base makes for a higher stock valuation.

Because large sites are well regarded by search engines, copyright infringements in community sections and thin rewrites by contract staff reduce the search visibility of original content creator’s websites.

The Big Business of Rewriting Content

The business of getting large numbers of people to work rewriting original content may sound like High School English class, but it’s a big business. Imagine hiring a hundred different contract writers on commission to recast the articles of the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal every morning and having your own Internet paper published daily by the time most people are ready for breakfast. The writing would end up being on a lower grade level, and the writers’ lack of subject knowledge would lead to some pretty amusing errors, but to a search engine it would look every bit as authoritative as the original. Explain to the ever expanding pool of writers that their earnings are dependent on getting links to their articles, and suggest they spend their time leaving comments on other online newspapers, blogs, and anywhere else they or their friends can stuff a link. If the New York Times or Wall Street Journal didn’t stop you, pretty soon you’d have a website worth more than the Boston Globe.

The Bad Guys Are Winning

Between the Digital Millenium Copyright Act and the new search emphasis on large sites with community features, the pirates are winning the war. While it’s still possible for new authors and publishers to build an online presence and attract thousands of visitors daily via search, it’s no longer an investment for the future. The more popular a small website becomes, the more it gets ripped off, and the greater the danger it will be downgraded by search engines for having published content that no longer appears to be unique.

A Possible Solution

My advice to writers of all stripes today is to focus first on dedicated eBook platforms, starting with Kindle, where the storefront owned by the eBook device maker means you won’t be competing against pirated versions of your work. Or at least if somebody does try publishing your work on Kindle, as has already happened to me, Amazon will take it down within hours of notification.

Morris Rosenthal has been publishing online since 1995 and has
authored a dozen nonfiction books, including McGraw-Hill’s bestselling
“Build Your Own PC” series. He has been active in the small business
community for the last decade, founding Internet groups with over
1,000 members for professionals in the computer and publishing
businesses, and blogs about self publishing at


6 Responses to Major Search Engines Cashing in on Piracy?

  1. Rowena Cherry says:

    Thank you, Morris.

    In my opinion, the best thing that the government could do is clearly define what constitutes a “red flag” per DMCA section 512, and liberally define who may wave a “red flag”, and what the penalties should be if “red flags” are ignored.

    If the Library of Congress can keep a record of every Tweet on Twitter, they could surely keep a record of every DMCA notice and every “red flag”.

  2. Rowena Cherry says:

    eBay is one of the worst and holding authors down. Do you know, they limit to about 5 the number of messages that an injured author may send to Ebayers who have innocently purchased copyright-infringing copies of works?

    eBay does not honor DMCA notices. If a copyright owner wishes to send a DMCA notification about an infringing auction, eBay will take no action unless the copyright owner has access to a printer and fax, and is prepared to fill out their own paperwork and join their “program”.

    Even then, eBay will not post that the auction was illegal, nor will they notify the purchasers of the illegal items, nor will they notify the true copyright owners (the authors) of all the e-books in a “collection” on DVD.

  3. Rowena,

    I didn’t know that about eBay, interesting. Sounds like it might be worth talking to an attorney, since it really isn’t up to eBay to put limits on copyright, and as they have deep pockets, if they are non-compliant and your copyright is registered, they are liable for your legal costs in suing them.

    BTW, your website is getting redirected elsewhere.


  4. rowena cherry says:

    Here’s a sample email that I received. Let’s also remember that the Vero program is out of the UK, which means that an author has to have access to a printer, and also to a fax machine with international calling.

    Dear Rowena,

    Thank you for contacting eBay in regard to potentially infringing items on the eBay site. I understand that this can be a pressing matter, and I apologize for the delayed response.

    We understand that this is a pressing matter, b…ut at this time we are unable to process your request. Due to security concerns, we ask that you contact us at; reporting through our webform does not allow us to verify the sender’s email address, allowing for possible unauthorized reports.

    Please also note that we require you to submit the listings in Notice of Claimed Infringement (NOCI) form. Once you contact us at, we can provide you with a copy of the notice.

    We appreciate your participation in the eBay VeRO Program and look forward to hearing from you.

    Dave M.
    eBay Customer Support

    Rowena Cherry

  5. rowena cherry says:

    I am leaving the “Website” area blank. I didn’t join this discussion to promote myself.

    Where is anyone who clicks being sent?

  6. rowena cherry says:

    Currently being promoted by EBay, this auction

    I should like to point out to anyone who might consider bidding that the downloading of e-books from a CD constitutes the creation of a copy that was not paid for.

    The penalties for copyright infringement include fines, and even prison time.



    An ebook is an electronic version of the real book. You can read these ebooks on your computer, or print them out.

    Some of the authors included are;

    stephen king

    dean koontz

    sheriylnn kenyon

    katie macalister

    terry goodking

    jd robb/nora roberts

    linda howard

    stephanie plum

    house of night series

    anne rice

    james patterson

    kim harrison

    anita blake

    johanna lindsey

    la banks

    jr ward

    lj smith

    tom clancy

    michael crichton

    robert howard

    and more…..

    400 additional ebooks as an extra bonus

    1400 total”

    End of quote.

    To calculate how many questionable sales there have been, visit the Vendor’s Feedback Page. Click to see All Feedback. Refine that search to see “Feedback As A Seller”

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