Google Releases Transparency Report of Takedown Requests

Google Releases Transparency Report of Takedown Requests

Google is offering a rather insightful look of what is being requested to be taken down. Many were copyright related, but some were requests from governments all around the world. That includes the American, Canadian and British government. We take a look through the report.

We first found out about the new Google Transparency Report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation which also commented with the following:

Striking is the sheer volume of takedown notices Google receives: in just the last month, it processed over 1.2 million requests for Search alone, from 1,296 copyright owners and 1,087 reporting organizations. That scale allows it to present trends in the data that might not otherwise be apparent. For example, even in the case of notorious “pirate” sites like The Pirate Bay, Google has received takedown notices for less than 5% of their indexable pages.

On the other hand, this report also provides a clearer look into the abuse of copyright tools. Google explains that it’s complied with 97% of takedown requests received between July and December of 2011, but also provides examples of obviously invalid copyright requests it’s received. Those examples range from cases of negligent over-application, such as movie studios who have attempted to remove IMDB entries or links to legitimate trailers for their movies, to clear attempts at censorship, such as businesses who have issued takedown requests for employee accounts of unfair treatment. Of course, there are even more ridiculous examples: the report describes a reporting company sending a takedown notice for links to earlier takedown notices that obviously did not infringe.

This transparency report gives Google a chance to highlight some of its good citizenship as an online service provider. Although the burden of liability is supposed to be on the organization that sends the takedown notice — it is required to claim under penalty of perjury to have a good-faith belief of copyright infringement — in practice many groups are willing to skirt those rules, sending takedown notices to silence unfavorable speech or even without human review. The 3% of takedown notices that Google chooses not to comply with is a large absolute number, and each of those are instances of legitimate speech that would have otherwise been shut down. Google deserves to be commended for that behavior.

One of the things I’ve been saying for quite some time is that due process in copyright infringement complaints is always essential. If you allow a free-for-all to happen where anyone can just file takedown notices seemingly without repercussions, this opens the door wide for abuse. We’ve seen this last year with a fraudulent takedown notice of the Nyan Cat last year and we’ve seen DMCA notices used to silence bad reviews of doctors also in the same year. Those are just two examples with the latter showing us that we’ve explicitly commented that copyright laws can be abused for the purposes of general censorship (that has nothing to do with copyrighted music, movies, video games, software, etc.). I still say to this day that concerns for general censorship by copyright is a completely legitimate concern when discussing changes to copyright law. I don’t care how often proponents for restricting copyright laws keep saying that this is just a distraction from the main issue because it is an issue that has not been adequately addressed.

Google, interestingly enough, provided examples of abusive or otherwise inaccurate takedown requests in their FAQ:

– A major U.S. motion picture studio requested removal of the IMDb page for a movie released by the studio, as well as the official trailer posted on a major authorized online media service.

– A U.S. reporting organization working on behalf of a major movie studio requested removal of a movie review on a major newspaper website twice.

– A driving school in the U.K. requested the removal of a competitor’s homepage from Search, on the grounds that the competitor had copied an alphabetized list of cities and regions where instruction was offered.

– A content protection organization for motion picture, record and sports programming companies requested the removal of search results that link to copyright removal requests submitted by one of their clients and other URLs that did not host infringing content.

– An individual in the U.S. requested the removal of search results that link to court proceedings referencing her first and last name on the ground that her name was copyrightable.

– Multiple individuals in the U.S. requested the removal of search results that link to blog posts and web forums that associated their names with certain allegations, locations, dates or negative comments.

– A company in the U.S. requested the removal of search results that link to an employee’s blog posts about unjust and unfair treatment.

Regardless of how accurate these takedown notices are, a provided graph shows that copyright notices are on the rise. Below are some of the things we found interesting with this report.

Takedown notices by Governments

Contrary to what you might think about takedown requests, not all of them have to do with record labels, film studios or video game companies. Some come from governments and related bodies all around the world. While some come from countries like China, South Korea, and Oakistan, others come from the United States, Canadian and the UK governments as well.

On the government page, there are some details of what exactly is being taken down. One example from the US:

We received a request from a local law enforcement agency to remove YouTube videos of police brutality, which we did not remove. Separately, we received requests from a different local law enforcement agency for removal of videos allegedly defaming law enforcement officials. We did not comply with those requests, which we have categorized in this Report as defamation requests.

The number of content removal requests we received increased by 70% compared to the previous reporting period.

Another example is from the Canadian government:

We received a request from a Canadian politician to remove a blog criticizing his policies. We declined to remove the blog because it did not violate our policies.

I think these two examples alone are very eye opening. In any event, Google says that takedowns from US law enforcement and government are on the rise by 70% while UK takedowns have risen by 71% in the same time period.

Raw data of the takedown requests by government was also posted for the public to peruse through.

Copyright Takedowns

This section could be best shown as three top ten lists:

Top 10 Reporting Organizations (all)
1. Marketly llc (2,197,293 takedown requests)
2. NBCUNIVERSAL (1,005,765)
3. Degban Ltd. (973,765)
4. BPI (British Recorded Music Industry) Ltd (933,123)
5. DtecNet (862,582)
6. Takedown Piracy LLC (756,269)
7. Recording Industry Association of America, Inc. (425,294)
8. Removeyourcontent LLC (219,129)
9. MEC (169,765)
10. IFPI (118,818)

Top 10 Copyright Owner Takedowns (all)
1. Microsoft Corporation (2,554,475 URL Takedowns)
2. NBCUNIVERSAL (1,005,765)
3. RIAA member companies (EMI Music North America, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and their associated record labels) (416,731)
4. BPI (British Recorded Music Industry) Ltd (340,674)
5. Froytal Services Ltd (339,098)
6. Marketly llc (258,563)
7. Universal Music Ltd (200,447)
8. SONY MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT (174,729)
9. BangBros.com Inc. (146,024)
10. RK NetMedia Inc. (143,253)

Top 10 Targeted Domains (all)
1. filestube.com (391,153 URLs removed)
2. torrentz.eu (147,809)
3. 4shared.com (132,997)
4. kat.ph (132,375)
5. bitsnoop.com (122,260)
6. extratorrent.com (120,821)
7. filetram.com (112,452)
8. beemp3.com (107,383)
9. zippyshare.com (106,409)
10. filesonic.com (101,240)

That last list is quite interesting. Notice which sites you don’t see? Sites like ThePirateBay and ISOHunt. ISOHunt sits at number 14 with 86,385 taken down URLs while The Pirate Bay is following in at number 15 with 80,436 taken down URLs. Why is ThePirateBay so low? The domain changed to ThePirateBay.se. That domain had a total of 35,001 takedowns. Combining the two domains, you’d get a total of 115,437 URL takedowns. Just enough to push the site up to number 7 by only 2,985 takedowns.

Overall, I’d say this new transparency report is quite fascinating to go through. You can check out the report here.

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