The copyright issue and censorship threat buried within Google's transparency report
The British Phonographic Institute has asked Google to remove over 45 million web addresses alleged to be hosting copyright infringing material. A new Google transparency report revealed that the recorded music conglomerates have demanded removal of such an astounding number that it dwarves companies like NBC Universal, Warner Brothers, Fox, and Microsoft.
Google released its transparency report this week offering detailed data sets of all the requests for takedown it has to had to deal with. Most analysts have focused on the number of actions and requests for takedown from governments that Google received.
Over 2,400 such requests were received - not surprisingly defamation and privacy/security leading the reasons behind the requests for removal.
Concerns: BPI has requested removal of web addresses
But this number pales in comparison to the nearly 100 million requests for take down related to infringing copyright, with the British Phonographic Institute and related organisations requesting nearly 45 million addresses be removed by Google.
Interestingly, the BPI’s various related organisations under the BPI Ltd Member Companies and the BPI (British) have combined to remove the links. The BPI uses web-crawling technology to search the internet for infringing files in order to blast Google with rapid automated notifications.
And, BPI claims the number of notice-and-takedowns would be higher if not for the 250,000 daily limits that Google puts on the requests for takedown.
Neither the BPI nor Google have been able to release information on how it checks the validity of the automated robotic requests. Under the e-commerce directive, Google escapes liability for illegal content on its various products until it receives actual knowledge of the content available.
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By sending literally tens of millions of notices via automated notification, verification of all the alleged infringement would likely be impossible. Google, in order to escape potential liability, will remove the content linked to the notice-and-takedown to escape liability.
Search seems to be latest target for organisations like the BPI. The largest number of requests comes from the BPI and the Recording Industry Association of America.
Furthermore, a large number of requests came from the porn industry, including Froytal Services. Google, which also uses automated systems to direct advertising to consumers, makes enormous amounts of profit from selling advertising which appears alongside a search return towards sites that link users to those infringing copyright.
The BPI seems to be targeting Google and has the search engine giant in its sights. BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor said: "Google leads consumers into a murky underworld of unlicensed sites, where they may break the law or download malware or inappropriate content, because it persistently ranks such sites above trusted legal services when consumers search for music to download. Google knows full well, from millions of notices and from court decisions, which sites are illegal. Yet it turns a blind eye to that information and chooses to keep on driving traffic and revenues to the online black market, ahead of legal retailers.
"It's time for Google to be held to the same standards of behaviour as everyone else. It has enormous power as a gatekeeper to the Internet. If it won’t choose to behave ethically and responsibly, it's time for governments and regulators to take action."
The accuracy of the notice-and-takedown is important. An invalid notice resulting in the takedown of copyrighted material can often have a chilling effect on free speech and be viewed as censorship. In 2010, a democratically elected councillor for Brighton and Hove Council, Jason Kitcat, videotaped council meetings and posted them on YouTube.
Kitcat thought council meetings should be open and transparent. As a result of his audacity, the council claimed copyright infringement and tried to have him removed from the council as a result. The reasoning? “Council meetings are the intellectual property of the Council... and thus ‘belong’ to the Council as a ‘resource’ highlighting a point in the Council's code of conduct that ‘prohibits the use of resources (such as IT equipment) improperly for political purposes’.”
Copyright claims are often used as a tool for censorship and Google’s transparency report does not offer any guidance for how Google determines whether any item is subject to fair use or fair dealing defenses - legitimate uses of copyrighted material - often for the purposes of comment and parody