Last week, Google released what it calls its Transparency Report on copyright and copyright-related take-down requests. In a blog post announcing the report, the company acknowledges that fighting online piracy is important, and seemed to accept that they have some responsibilities in curtailing it, writing: “we don’t want our search results to direct people to materials that violate copyright laws.”
Although Google’s report is meant to illustrate the scope of the task search engines and other intermediaries face in responding to notice and take down requests, in our view the report really underscores the ineffectiveness of the current notice and take down system for independent artists and creators. The difficulties indie creatives face are well documented (also see here), and we receive reports of the challenges faced by grassroots members such as authors and songwriters on a regular basis.
For instance, an author in Charles City, Iowa, who has written thirty-one novels of romantic suspense and has been published for nearly twenty years, has seen her print runs decrease, her advances get smaller and her ability to make a living as a writer grow increasingly difficult as a result of rampant online infringement. She says that her time is increasingly spent sending out DMCA notices that largely get ignored or result in a dismissive, "those files are stored on a site outside this country so we don't have to abide by the DMCA."
But even representatives of corporate copyright holders seem to be experiencing difficulty in policing the infringement of their works online. In response to the Google Transparency Report, the RIAA’s Executive Vice President for Anti-Piracy, Brad Buckles raised important questions about how the search engine giant is responding to take down requests and the pervasive problem of online infringement of copyrighted works.
He contends that Google limits the ability of a copyright holder to both identify and provide notice of infringements by placing artificial limits on search queries and limiting the number of links that can be noticed for take down per day. In other words, the utility of Google’s notice-and-take-down system for even a well-resourced copyright owner is limited by Google’s own design, and Buckle’s suggests that if Google is truly concerned about preventing infringement they would remove those restrictions.
In a statement in response to the RIAA’s post, Google acknowledges the limits placed in its current notice-and-take down system, claiming they are a safeguard against a flood of requests on what they say is an already overburdened system. Google claims that they receive upwards of 250,000 take-down requests each week from copyright holders who have identified links to infringing material. They also note that 97 percent of the time those requests are fulfilled. This means that the take-down requests are for legitimate claims of infringement.
Understandably, processing a quarter of a million take-down requests in no small task, and according to Google that number is only growing. But that number, coupled with the fact that 97 percent of the take down requests are valid, only underscores what a pervasive and persistent problem online infringement really is. One is left to wonder whether Google’s stated policy of “launch and iterate” when it comes to matters of copyright compliance isn’t harming both Google and artists.
If Google is honest about being a steward of the internet and doing its part to reduce infringement, it will indeed “iterate” the current approach it takes to notice and takedown requests to make sure that creators large and small can effectively utilize the notice-and-take down procedure without limitations, and ensure that take down means keep down.