Google Takedown Requests Skyrocket in 2012
It appears that Google’s offer to remove allegedly infringing content is being taken quite seriously—or frivolously—by users. TorrentFreak recently reported that in the past year, Google has received over 51 million Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown requests. Within the past six months, “the number of DMCA takedowns that Google receives has increased by a factor of 10 from 250,000 per week to 2.5 million.” While it may comfort copyright holders to hear that Google is taking such an aggressive stance against infringement, there is considerable concern that the removal of allegedly infringing links from search results will stunt efficiency and interfere with legitimate use of copyrighted materials.
Despite the high volume of weekly requests, Tech Dirt reports that Google responds to takedown notices in eleven hours, on average. This leaves little time to investigate the veracity of the request and leads to over enforcement. Google maintains that their review process works, “[Google] recently rejected two requests from an organization representing a major entertainment company, asking us to remove a search result that linked to a major newspaper’s review of a TV show. The requests mistakenly claimed copyright violations of the show, even though there was no infringing content.” However, the potential for abuse is substantial, as Google itself has observed anticompetitive behavior where petitioners issue untrue complaints against rivals’ content.
In a recent Transparency Report, Google’s Senior Policy Analyst Dorothy Chou noted an even more serious concern over censorship of political speech through takedown requests, “[Google has] been asked to take down political speech. It’s alarming not only because free expression is at risk, but because some of these requests come from countries you might not suspect—Western democracies not typically associated with censorship.” It is easy to imagine that some, if not many of these requests succeed based on the high volume submitted.
In summary—Google has likely, albeit inadvertently, contributed to the takedown or demotion of search results submitted in fair use, bad faith for anticompetitive purposes, and free speech. However, the process is not entirely without merit. Websites that are known for disseminating pirated material have been targeted and appear less frequently or “lower down the page” in search results. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has also experienced success in protecting its members’ copyrighted work from appearing illegally on Google.
With such strong competing risks and benefits, there is a call for Google to rethink its takedown policy. As Tech Dirt so aptly points out, “When one company is processing over 10 million takedowns per month, the system is clearly broken. Maybe it’s time to look at why.” It will be interesting to keep an eye on Google’s Transparency Reports over the next year to see if the rapid rise of takedown requests continues or levels off.