The more things change, the more they stay the same. Just as sighs of relief roll around with Google, finally seeming to penalize major piracy sites in its unpaid search listings, another copyright infringement issue in the same sphere rears its ugly head for the world’s leading search engine.

In a  seasonally appropriate revelation, it appears that even after the (largely ineffective) DMCA takedown process has been seen out, infringing links can still be brought back from the dead. As Torrent Freak reveals, thanks to a mixture of cached web pages and Google’s own provision of removed URLs to the ChillingEffects database, sites like FileSoup can easily locate the sites and specific links that offer illegal streams and download. By pulling back cached versions of the site – i.e. older versions saved on previous crawls – infringing links to content can make a comeback.

This is a spooky resurrection of pirate links that refuse to die.

digital ghost

Even though this comes at a time when Google is finally clamping down on some of the more notorious piracy sites, its past lack of commitment to the issue raises questions over how the company gives with one hand, yet takes away with the other. Remember that it took several years to get to this point of taking meaningful action on piracy in its unpaid search results, even as the privacy storm in Europe showed just how quickly the company can act to take down links when it’s forced to.

It’s also important to remember that Google makes its money from paid search listings, not the more ramshackle collection of links that it slaps together in its organic listings (where the quality gap can be very wide). This includes its advertising Display Network, which can be rolled out on any site, including those that profit from links to unlicensed content. Although the implementation is automatic, Google still profits from the clicks that come through these ads, regardless of the site that achieves them. Add to this YouTube’s lingering piracy problem and any number of other ways that Google’s practices nullify its more effective anti-piracy initiatives, and skepticism around the company’s commitment to creative rights is fully warranted.

The end result is that Google is shooting itself in the foot, assuming that the company is in fact serious about tackling piracy across the board. The removal of major piracy sites from first page results will undoubtedly redirect traffic from those illegal resources, but that doesn’t mean the search engine has done its job of finding the user a legitimate channel to access the content they want.

The fact that there are still so many pirate sites located on Google highlights the enormity of the task. Removing just a few of them, while an admirable start, is akin to shooting off a single fire hydrant emptying into the ocean – there’s still a lot of water there. A holistic approach that banishes illegal links from unpaid search for good and denies paid ad support to sites that carry unlicensed content is required. Whether Google is capable of – or, more accurately, has the will to – commit the company’s vast resources to killing off the pirate sites that plague its platforms?

That’s the real question when it comes to judging where Google stands on preventing piracy and showing true support for intellectual property.