Google has been asked to remove links from more than a million individual websites from its search results based on alleged copyright infringement, according to recent transparency reports. For more than five years, the company has been keeping detailed information on the takedown requests it receives and the URLs it removes, and to explain how it handles the process. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, service providers are protected from liability for the infringing activities of third parties, such as their users or customers, via the “safe harbor” provisions of Section 512. For safe harbor to apply, these service providers have to follow “notice and takedown” procedures when a copyright owner submits a valid request. Google explains that once it receives a takedown notice, it has a team review it for completeness. If it has no issues, Google removes the URL from search results. If it receives a counter notification from the website, it reviews that request and decides whether or not to restate the URL. So far, Google has removed more than 2 billion URLs.
Google has seen the volume of removal requests grow steadily over time. In July 2012, it received 1.6 million; in January 2017, it received 19 million. Among the recognized names topping the list of those making removal requests are the Record Industry Association of America with more than 84 million URLs requested for removal, Fox with almost 62 million URLs requested, NBC Universal with nearly 28 million requests, and HBO with just over 27 million. A large number of those websites are indeed pirate sites and are ultimately cut from search results, but famous websites are also reported for copyright infringement. Plenty of pirate websites use IMDB (Internet Movie Database) in their URLs, but Google has received requests to have 1,000 URLs from the real site IMDB.com—which provides a massive catalogue on films and actors—removed for copyright violations. This is likely due to its collection containing names of copyrighted films, which get flagged by the software copyright management firms use. Google, of course, has never taken down the site.
Furthermore, URLs associated with Justice.gov, which is the website for the United States Department of Justice, have been reported as copyright violations. Netflix has submitted many takedown requests, and has had its own name used in the domains of many pirated sites, but the streaming service’s website has also been targeted as a pirate site itself. Other legitimate sites that have been named in takedown requests include nasa.gov, cnn.com, msnbc.com and whitehouse.gov. Last year, we wrote on how Warner Bros. mistakenly submitted a takedown request to Google for one of its own websites. None of the URLs associated with these sites have been taken down.
For more information on copyright infringement and the process for filing a takedown request, please contact The Fried Firm.