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RIAA wants to issue unlimited takedowns to Google


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Data shows that labels aren't using current system to its limits, though.

If Google really hated piracy, it would let copyright holders supply takedown lists of unlimited length. That's the view of the recording industry, which yesterday issued a blog post from a top anti-piracy executive that blasted Google in the wake of the company's updated Transparency Report tool. That tool made clear that the major music and video copyright holders were not actually using Google's takedown tools to their full extent; indeed, Microsoft dwarfed any other single rightsholder in using Google's takedown system.

In the last month, for instance, the infringement detection company Marketly LLC topped the takedown list with 380,000 takedowns, all on behalf of Microsoft (read our recent interview with the Marketly CEO). The next three spots on the list belong to NBCUNIVERSAL (209,000), the British music trade group BPI (193,306), and a company called Takedown Piracy LLC (133,756). No one else on the list even cracks 100,000 takedowns.

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The last month of takedown requests for Google's Web search

Music labels have reasons for this. Generating the takedown lists takes real time and money, and it often feels like Whac-A-Mole—take down a link to a song and another identical copy takes its place.

"In a recent one month period, we sent Google, and the site in question, multiple DMCA notices concerning over 300 separate unauthorized copies of the same musical recording owned by one of our member companies," wrote Brad Buckles, executive vice president for anti-piracy at the RIAA, in a blog post yesterday. "Yet that song is still available on that site today, and we reached it via a search result link indexed by Google. This highlights the futility of the exercise: if 'take down' does not mean 'keep down,' then Google’s limitations merely perpetuate the fraud wrought on copyright owners by those who game the system under the DMCA."

Fundamentally, the labels just don't believe they should have to do this much work for so little in the way of results. Google should do more, they argue. Perhaps it could refuse to link to files that have an identical hash to files already taken down; perhaps it could "prioritize" sites like iTunes and Amazon's music store above more dubious destinations.

These are all legitimate concerns to raise about the sometimes futile nature of DMCA takedowns, and they are debatable responses to the situation. They all provide good reasons for the RIAA to not rely too heavily on DMCA takedown notices—but the trade group says that the real problem with Google is that the search giant simply won't let the labels submit enough DMCA takedowns.

Buckles again:

You can’t notify Google about the scope of the problem if it limits the notices it will accept and process through its automated tool. And that is what Google does. On top of the query limitation, Google also limits the number of links we can ask them to remove per day. Google has the resources to allow take downs that would more meaningfully address the piracy problem it recognizes, given that it likely indexes hundreds of millions of links per day. Yet this limitation remains despite requests to remove it.

This complaint permeates the blog post. ("But Google places artificial limits on the number of queries that can be made by a copyright owner... These limits significantly decrease the utility of Google’s take down tool... The number of queries they allow is miniscule... Yet Google has denied requests to remove this barrier to finding the infringements.") But it's a little hard to square with the actual data.

Yes, Google has limits on take downs. In the picture below, note how one of Google's Webmaster tools allows only for 1,000 URLs per copyrighted file, and allows ten such files per notice (for a per-notice total list of 10,000 URLs).

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Perhaps limits like these are too low to allow major rightsholders to effectively use the tools, yet what stands out is that the labels aren't even using such tools to their fullest extent. Marketly, which apparently consists of a Seattle-based exec team and some workers in India, blows away the movie and music industries. In the last month, the US music labels aren't even in the top three takedown submitters; when they do appear, they come in far below Marketly and even the British music labels.

While takedowns may be expensive or worthless or both, the labels simply aren't using Google's systems even to their current maximums, and they aren't even using them as extensively as other copyright holders. Complaints that this is a central problem with Google just look like a misguided method of bashing Google over broader frustrations with the working—or "not working"—of the DMCA's takedown system.

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