RIAA to Google: You still don’t do enough to fight online piracy

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Despite the fact that copyright owners asked Google to remove 1.2 million Web pages from its search index last month alone due to alleged infringement, the music industry is still unhappy with its efforts.

In a blog post published Wednesday, RIAA Executive Vice President of Anti-Piracy Brad Buckles accused Google of misleading the public about the scope of its attempts to fight online piracy, and offered a list of “facts” that Google failed to point out in its Transparency Report.

Even more transparency is needed to fully understand the scope” of online piracy, writes Buckles. A good place to start, he says, would be to publish “the total number of links to infringing material available” as well as “the limitations Google imposes on rights owners to search for infringements reveals how meager the number of notices is relative to the vast amount of infringement.”

RIAA cries “limitations”

Google’s “limitations” on copyright holders lay at the heart of Buckle’s complaints about the search giant’s approach to anti-piracy. As Buckles explains, Google uses an “automated tool” to process all the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) takedown notices it receives from copyright holders. “In order to notify Google of an infringement, you first need to find the infringement,” writes Buckles. “But Google places artificial limits on the number of queries that can be made by a copyright owner to identify infringements. These limits significantly decrease the utility of Google’s take down tool given the vast nature of the piracy problem today and the number of titles we are trying to protect.”

According to Google’s count, RIAA member companies — EMI Music North America, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group — serve a median total of about 4,200 DCMA notices each week, with the total number of requests clocking in at just under 440,000. The RIAA ranks fifth in terms of total requests sent, with Microsoft taking the top spot, having requested the takedown of more than 1.2 million URLs.

Google hits back

Google senior copyright attorney Fred von Lohmann denies that Google limits the number of takedown requests a  copyright owner may send, but says that the company does have “technical safeguards” in place simply as a way to make sure it does not drown in the mountain of complaints.

“We have never imposed any limit on the number of notices that a copyright owner or reporting organization may send us, although we do have some technical safeguards in our trusted partner program (where submitters may be using automated mechanisms to send large volumes) as a safeguard against accidental flooding of the system,” von Lohmann said in a statement released to various media outlets.

Google says that it currently receives an average of 250,000 DCMA notices each week — roughly the total number that it received in all of 2009. Approximately 97 percent of the requests it receive result in a link being removed from its index, the company says. And each removal takes about 11 hours to full process, as Google attempts to make sure each removal request is legitimate before acting.

We try to catch erroneous or abusive removal requests,” wrote von Lohmann in a blog post last week. “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.”

More RIAA complaints

In addition to takedown request limitations, Buckles complains that Google “also limits the number of links we can ask them to remove per day.” He also claims that Google’s removals are only cosmetic, since they only account for 0.1 percent of the total number of links for sites that are most often targeted by DCMA takedowns. “For example, Google calculates that infringing links account for only 0.1 percent of links on filestube, a notorious source of infringing links,” he writes. “For anyone who knows filestube, this seems unlikely, especially given that Google’s data doesn’t include DMCA notices sent directly to the site.”

In other words, the RIAA would prefer that Google simply wipe entire websites from its search results if they’ve are regularly accused of hosting a significant number of infringing content. Nevermind that proactive censorship is not Google’s responsibility, and would likely result in the censorship perfectly legal content.

Lastly, Buckles is upset that Google continues to index websites regularly accused of copyright infringement, which allows these sites to simply repost the exact content that the RIAA wants removed from the Internet. “If ‘take down’ does not mean ‘keep down,’ then Google’s limitations merely perpetuate the fraud wrought on copyright owners by those who game the system under the DCMA,” writes Buckles.

Conclusion

Needless to say, the RIAA will not be satisfied until it has the power to wipe every piece of allegedly infringing content off the Web. Buckles’s blog simply shows that the entertainment industry feels not only that Google isn’t doing enough to protect its bottom line, but that the DCMA is an inadequate law for fighting piracy. It is this mindset that led to the creation of bills like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). And further shows that Hollywood will not stop pushing such measures until they can slam a hammer on every website that it has a problem with.

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