Google revealed today that it was asked to remove a staggering 1.2 million Web pages from its search results last month alone due to allegations of copyright infringement. This represents a massive jump in the number of requests; Google received a total of 3.3 million takedown requests all of last year. And even that was a major spike from years prior.
“These days it’s not unusual for us to receive more than 250,000 requests each week, which is more than what copyright owners asked us to remove in all of 2009,” wrote Fred von Lohmann, Google Senior Copyright Counsel, in a blog post. “In the past month alone, we received about 1.2 million requests made on behalf of more than 1,000 copyright owners to remove search results. These requests targeted some 24,000 different websites.”
Following in the footsteps of Twitter, Google has begun to share its takedown data with Chilling Effects, a nonprofit organization that monitors Internet censorship.
Von Lohmann says that it takes roughly 11 hours to fully process a takedown request. Google says that it complies with approximately 97 percent of all such requests.
“We try to catch erroneous or abusive removal requests,” writes von Lohmann. “For example, we 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. We’ve also seen baseless copyright removal requests being used for anticompetitive purposes, or to remove content unfavorable to a particular person or company from our search results.”
Google’s transparency here appears to be part of a larger argument against legislation like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which would have taken far more extreme measures to censor websites accused of copyright infringement.
“Fighting online piracy is very important, and we don’t want our search results to direct people to materials that violate copyright laws,” writes von Lohmann. “So we’ve always responded to copyright removal requests that meet the standards set out in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). At the same time, we want to be transparent about the process so that users and researchers alike understand what kinds of materials have been removed from our search results and why.”
Google’s “Transparency Report,” originally launched two years ago, is a fascinating look at the copyright/censorship process — at least, it’s fascinating if you’re a huge nerd about these things, like I am. Google breaks down the data into a number of categories, ranging from which organizations are requesting the most takedowns, to which URLs are the most egregious offenders. I highly recommend you take a look.