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Is Google ignoring DMCA requests?

Update 30/09/2012:

Whilst the content of the below article is still valid, the reasons behind Google’s stance has become clearer.

Earlier this year, Google decided to penalize the ranking of websites that had received large numbers of valid copyright infringement notices. This was aimed at penalizing music and software piracy websites. At the same time several large social media websites, including Twitter, realized that their site would suffer in terms of Google ranking due to the sheer number of copyright claims made against it. When a site loses ranking, it loses money – due to less advertising views and clicks. Within a month of Google’s new stance on piracy, Google also decided that all DMCA claims made against Twitter would be ignored and the claimant would be instructed to take the matter up with Twitter and use their DMCA form. This seems reasonable, albeit legally somewhat of a murky practice. It does, however, impact on cyberbullying – previously submitting to Google resulted in the search engine result being removed. Now submitting only to Twitter means the picture is removed but not always the whole tweet or the text. So the Google search result still remains. So it’s a good result for Google and Twitter, but not for the victim of online harassment.

Perhaps Google needs to think again.


Here’s the article we blogged back in July:


We’ve received worrying and disturbing reports and rumors both from our clients and our own reputation management consultants that Google have introduced a new policy to avoid Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) take-down notices for social networking sites which already have their own DMCA policies.

Here’s a typical scenario. A Twitter account has published a photograph which is clearly in contravention of the DMCA law provision. The image is appearing in Google search results, since Google indexes Twitter tweets. The owner of the copyrighted image sends a properly formatted DMCA takedown via Google’s Webmaster Tools DMCA dashboard which is checked by an attorney, and gives complete and valid information to enable google to locate the image, and sufficient proof to assert the copyright claim.

Previously Google removed such images as per DMCA provision in law, and with little fuss. They respected the law. Now, a standard response is being issued – “Not enough information provided.” On further querying this response, Google is issuing another cut and paste standard reply, which reads thus:

Thanks for reaching out to us.
Could you please confirm that you have first attempted to use Twitter’s copyright removal procedure (please see Removal of this content from Google search results will not remove it from Twitter’s site, and will not prevent users from viewing the content via other avenues, such as other search engines, social media, or web pages which contain the content in question.

The Google Team

Similar responses (just change the links and name of website) have been reported for Flickr, Tumblr, Facebook, Google Plus (?!) and Picassa.

Of course if what Google is doing is to circumvent DMCA provision, then this is illegal. The DMCA law provides for any copyrighted material located on Google’s servers and decrees that such material much be removed in a reasonable time frame.

What we’ve heard rumors of is that Google is issuing the above cut and paste response and then waiting for the infringed party to respond. In another 5 days or so Google replies.

If the infringed party responds with “No, I haven’t contacted Twitter”, then Google will apparently respond to the effect that they won’t action a removal unless Twitter is contacted first. (Which is illegal under the terms of the DMCA, and actually renders Google liable for copyright infringement).

If the infringed party stated “Yes I have contacted Twitter”, then Google then apparently places the onus on Twitter to remove the image from their servers, and then waits until the next Google indexation reflects this. (Also illegal and could take 6 months to 1 year). Most worryingly, if Twitter fails to remove the image (quite common since Twitter’s policy is to keep images online if a counterclaim is issued, even if the counterclaim is false, placing the onus on the infringed party to litigate), then Google is now sending out replies to DMCA takedowns stating that they will refuse to action the takedown unless Twitter first removes the image.

Such actions by Google, if true, and we have no reason to suspect the reports we’ve received are anything but true, demonstrate that Google’s new policy is clearly illegal under DMCA law, and also makes Google liable for the copyright infringement.  However, to force Google to abide by DMCA provision by litigation would cost more money than the average infringed user will earn in a lifetime.

Sadly, in our view, this could be the beginning of the end of internet copyright and IP protection under US law – unless someone with deep pockets is prepared to act.

If you receive this response from Google do let us know.  Our advice is to respond by not responding to their question, and to state in reply: “Dear Google, Your question is irrelevant to the DMCA provision in law. Please remove the copyrighted material as per my properly formatted DMCA take-down request.”