With no serious threat of being held to account, the DMCA takedown notice system is seen by some as a mechanism to hurt rivals or sow chaos for unspecified reasons.
As part of TorrentFreak’s regular monitoring of the Lumen Database, an invaluable repository of DMCA notices received by Google and other platforms, we recently uncovered a particularly malicious attempt to frame a respected free and open-source project as the entity behind a series of bogus DMCA claims against almost two dozen sites.
MicroG Project and Vanced
The MicroG Project (microG) is a software development initiative that enables Android apps that rely on Google Play services to run without them. The people behind the project say that while Android is a Linux-based open-source operating system, increasing numbers of libraries and APIs are only available on devices that run proprietary Google software.
One of many projects that relied on microG was YouTube Vanced, an alternative YouTube app that removed all advertising and enabled background play, among other things.
Due to legal issues, Vanced shut down in early 2022 but was soon replaced by ReVanced, a new project with similar functionality. ReVanced and various apps that have emerged as clones or copycats of Vanced/ReVanced still use microG in some way.
Imposters Masquerade as microG
Previously sponsored by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research, microG is a free-as-in-freedom open-source project. This means that microG is free of charge and has no restrictions on use, so when we saw copyright claims filed in microG’s name targeting almost two dozen sites, that obviously raised alarm bells.
On March 30, 2023, someone claiming to be ‘MicroG’ sent a DMCA complaint to Google. “The following websites use our content, which is a significant loss for our company,” it begins, listing the allegedly infringing URLs below.
In the majority of cases, the URLs relate to microG’s software when utilized in Vanced-related projects, with one notable exception seen at line 8 where the takedown notice targets microG’s official website.
Creator and developer of microG, Marvin Wißfeld, informs TorrentFreak that the copyright complaint wasn’t his work.
“I was not aware of any of this prior to your message and I doubt that any microG contributor is involved here either,” Wißfeld says. “I’ve never sent a DMCA takedown notice and don’t plan to ever do so either.”
So who sent the complaint, and what was their motivation?
Notice Claims to Protect Business of Vanced.cc
When people file DMCA notices with Google, they are asked to include a URL where the original content that has been infringed can be found. In this case the URL links to Google’s Play Store, a little ironic given it’s the last place one might expect to see microG.
Specifically, the URL links to Play Tube, an app with more than 10 million downloads that claims to provide an ad-free YouTube experience while potentially sharing users’ location, sexual orientation, web browsing history and device IDs for advertising or marketing purposes.
Circumstantial evidence suggests that, at least potentially, an app of this nature might benefit from having the URLs listed in the notice removed from Google search. After tracking the operators of the app to Vanced.cc, we asked if they were behind the complaint to Google. Two responses arrived in broken English a few minutes apart.
“We are not sending this removal request to google may be it’s fake,” said one.
“Someone is trying to remove these websites using our app,” said the other. “If we have any problem with these website then we will contact our official mail. Can you provide us with more information on the reporter? Can you provide us with more information on the DMCA removal requester so that we can take legal action against him.”
While a little tricky to read in parts, the general message seems to be one of denial.
Not An Isolated Incident
At the time of writing, Google has delisted 13% of the URLs in the complaint with 87% currently marked as pending. Other recent complaints, broadly along similar lines (but also completely bogus) were previously rejected in full.
Others, including this one sent by ‘copyright owner’ YouTube Vanced, whoever that is, listed the official YouTube app on Google Play as the original content infringed, before attempting to take down links related to microG and/or Vanced-type software.
These notices are sent directly to Google, so any ability to identify the fraudulent senders lies mainly with Google. On the basis that Google is unlikely to take on the role of the DMCA notice police, it requires those negatively affected to take some kind of legal action themselves.
The more fundamental problem is that the DMCA has no real teeth when it comes to punishing fraudulent notice senders. At some point that will need to be addressed but that’s unlikely to be anytime soon.
The fraudulent DMCA notice, falsely listing microG as the sender, can be found here