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Google's New Copyright Transparency Report

Recently, Google expanded its Transparency Report program by releasing a detailed report of content removal requests from copyright holders. This report joins its semi-annual government takedown transparency report, and covers more than 95% of the copyright takedown requests it has received for Search results since July 2011.

What is striking is the volume of takedown notices Google receives.  For example in May 2012, it processed over 1.5 million requests for Search alone - from 1,507 copyright owners and 1,217 reporting organizations. The vast majority of them are well below 1%. In other words, no one has complained about well over 99% of the pages on these sites.  For example for The Pirate Bay, Google received takedown notices for less than 5% of their indexed pages.

The Transparency Report is a great tool for analyzing how many URL removal requests the search giant is processing.  The weekly number of URLs removed reached about 285,000 for the week of May 14, 2012, which is double the 130,000 removals it processed during the week of July 18, 2011.  Microsoft was the biggest requester for May 2012.  The company requested that 552,245 URLs be taken down.  A distant second was NBCUniversal with 258,162 requests.  Other companies that also rely heavily on it include BPI, RIAA, Sony, and LionsGate. (Note that this is a dynamic site and the data are constantly changing.)

Additionally, the report also provides a clearer look into the abuse of copyright tools.  Google explains that it has complied with 97% of takedown requests received between July and December of 2011, but it also provides examples of obviously invalid copyright requests it has received.  Those examples range from movie studios who have attempted to remove legal IMDB entries or links to legitimate trailers for their movies to businesses who have issued takedown requests for employee accounts of unfair treatment, and so on.

Given its importance as a starting point for many users, removal from Google's index can have devastating consequences on legitimate speech.  Google has pushed back on spurious takedown notices, both by reviewing and rejecting those requests the first time and by publishing real data about the behavior of copyright holders and reporting organizations.  

Fred von Lohmann, senior copyright counsel for Google, says the company hopes the new data will help contribute to the discussion on online copyright infringement.  In a blog post, he wrote:

"Fighting online piracy is very important, and we don't want our search results to direct people to materials that violate copyright laws. So we've always responded to copyright removal requests that meet the standards set out in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). At the same time, we want to be transparent about the process so that users and researchers alike understand what kinds of materials have been removed from our search results and why."

He also suggested that copyright holders were sometimes abusing their powers.

"For example, we recently rejected two requests from an organization representing a major entertainment company, asking us to remove a search result that linked to a major newspaper's review of a TV show. The requests mistakenly claimed copyright violations of the show, even though there was no infringing content. We've also seen baseless copyright removal requests being used for anticompetitive purposes, or to remove content unfavorable to a particular person or company from our search results."

While some copyright holders contact ISPs or web hosts, larger corporations go through the DMCA and search engines like Google to attempt to delist URLs. With the volume of takedown requests Google receives per month, the company says that it is still able to act on requests within 12 hours, and according to its report about 97% of the requests are legitimate.

This is fascinating data and an interesting platform that sheds light on just how often copyright holders are making requests to take links out of Google, who is doing it, and who they are targeting.  The community has been asking for these kind of data and it is time well spent examining them.

EDUCAUSE will continue to monitor and report on this issue.

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Comments

These are amazing statistics, and they make you wonder how many people Google must have working on this.  Also how many people the copyright holders have engaged to attempt to get these takedowns.  And how quickly Google is able to make a determination -- unlikely the DMCA or ISPs are providing 12 hour response time.

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