Last week, Google expanded its Transparency Report to include data on notices it has received from copyright owners for links to infringing content. The Report now shows the number of notices, as well as their sources and targets, since July 2011.
The massive data release has triggered plenty of comment from news outlets and bloggers following copyright and internet issues. But there is one interesting fact drawn from Google’s Report that I want to highlight.
Copyright skeptics commonly try to make the claim that copyright enforcement is prone to abuse.1
These claims were especially prevalent during last winter’s debates over SOPA and PIPA. In an article on Popular Mechanics, for example, Adam Savage of Mythbusters said, “This is exactly what will happen with Protect IP and SOPA. We’ve seen it again and again. Give people a club like this and you can kiss the Internet as you know it goodbye.”2
The Google Report, however, paints quite a different story.
Google notes that, “From time to time, we may receive inaccurate or unjustified copyright removal requests for search results that clearly do not link to infringing content,” adding that it does not comply with such requests. How many of these requests are there? According to Google, “We removed 97% of search results specified in requests that we received between July and December 2011.” That means that out of all the requests Google receives, only 3% were sent by mistake or in bad faith.
Given the popularity of Google’s search engine3 and the large size of notices in the Report, it is reasonable to conclude that this percentage is representative of DMCA notices as a whole.
Google provides several examples of erroneous notices in its Report FAQ, and tech bloggers have had a field day reporting on these. But the fact remains that they represent a tiny sliver of the population of notices received. Among the noncomplying notices were also some made in apparent bad faith. These are never acceptable, but the number of them among total notices seems reasonable and does not indicate any systemic abuse. The level of “inaccurate or unjustified” requests reported by Google is in line with low-merit claims in other areas of the law — for example, a Harvard School of Public Health study found that 3% of medical malpractice lawsuits involved “no adverse outcomes from medical care.” And, it should be noted, the DMCA provides penalties for making misrepresentations on DMCA notices, penalties that have had negative consequences on several copyright owners — including some claims that copyright skeptics hold up as examples of copyright enforcement abuse.4
The Google Transparency Report reveals that the bogeyman of abusive copyright enforcement is nowhere near as frightening as copyright skeptics have repeatedly portrayed it to be. This is something that should be kept in mind the next time policymakers address the issue of protecting creator’s rights online.
- A few examples: The EFF has said, “We’ve seen that power abused time and again.” How PIPA and SOPA Violate White House Principles Supporting Free Speech and Innovation (Jan. 16, 2012); Rebecca MacKinnon and Ivan Sigal warned, “even existing copyright law is abused in attempts to stifle criticism and public debate” Online piracy laws must preserve Web freedom, CNN (Dec. 14, 2011); according to Mike Linksvayer of Creative Commons, “The DMCA was decried by advocates of free speech and the Internet, and has over past 13 years had many harmful effects.” Urgent: Stop [U.S.] American censorship of the Internet, (Nov. 11, 2011). [↩]
- Other examples include: NetCoalition, a lobbyist group for Google, Facebook, and Yahoo, warned the bills have a “great potential for abuse by rights holders”; Rebecca MacKinnon of the New America Foundation stated, “Abuses under existing American law serve as troubling predictors for the kinds of abuse by private actors that the House bill would make possible.” Stop the Great Firewall of America, NY Times (Nov. 15, 2011); Julian Sanchez at TechDirt wrote, “This would be more convincing if the content industries weren’t so clearly continuing their long, proud tradition of making aggressive and overbroad copyright claims that would impede speech and innovation.” How SOPA Will be (Ab)Used (Dec. 19, 2011); Mike Loukides of O’Reilly Radar wrote, “there’s already a very lengthy history of copyright abuse by actors ranging from outright trolls such as Righthaven to supposedly reputable movie studios and record labels,” From SOPA to speech: Seven tech trends to monitor (Jan. 19, 2012); these and other claims can be summed up by the question asked by Alex Wexelblat on Copyfight: “It seems to me that the process is broken and people are not following the laws-as-written. How about we focus on fixing what’s on the books and in operation already before we go passing more new laws and further restrictions?” [↩]
- According to Search Engine Watch, Google commanded two-thirds of the US market for internet search in February 2012. [↩]
- For example, Adam Savage mentions a 2007 DMCA notice sent by Uri Gellar as an example of the kind of abuse that could “destroy the internet as we know it.” Gellar, however, ended up settling a subsequent lawsuit alleging misrepresentation for an undisclosed monetary amount and a court order to freely license the video footage that was the subject of the claim. [↩]