Searchenginewatch reports that Google received 345 million takedown notices during 2014 for search results alone–i.e, not including YouTube, Blogger or other Google properties–and it also doesn’t count the links that Google repackages and sends out through Google Alerts.
If you’ve been following the daily updates in the Google Transparency Report, this 345 million number will come as no surprise, as Google has been clocking about 30 million notices a month for a while now (currently even higher at 36 million for the last 30 days). But what about the links to pirate content that Google delivers to your inbox daily through Google Alerts along with social media links so you can “share” those links to others through Google+, Facebook and Twitter?
Why so many DMCA notices? Google would like you to believe that the high number of DMCA notices is due to aggressive tactics by copyright owners. The truth is more nuanced. Google provides automated tools to large copyright owners, requiring independent artists to send notices in one by one. The automated tools actually have caps built in that prevent copyright owners who are fortunate enough to be able to use them from sending the notices they could be sending.
So Google’s number is understated because they’re screwing the little guy, as usual, and because they artificially lower the number of notices that can be sent using their tools.
But why play this game at all? Google always takes the head in the sand “Sgt. Schultz” approach that they “know nothing” when it comes to blocking pirate sites from search results in order to get the benefit of the massive traffic that Google sends to ad supported pirate sites (also known as Adsense publishers). And Google has always taken the route that results in the highest number of whacks on the mole–just because they’ve received a million DMCA notices for the same work or a hundred million notices for a particular site doesn’t mean that the next link for that work on that site couldn’t be authorized. This is what we call the “DMCA okie doke,” the slow roll punches that try to deflect attention away from the real problem.
After several years of this, Google’s business is based in part on keeping as many links to pirate materials active for as long as possible, while at the same time making noises about how they cooperate with rights holders who are caught up in the Kafka-esque charade that Google itself has created.
When you add to the mix that Google sells advertising on pirate sites (see AdWords customer Luke Sample affidavit, page 18 of the Megavideo indictment and the DOJ summary of evidence in the Megavideo case, both documenting that Megavideo was an Adsense publisher) and various studies (including the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab) that implicate Google in selling advertising on the pirate sites it drives traffic to, you can understand why Google would want to keep the charade going as long as possible.
It’s obvious to me that Google profits from piracy, and if anyone could ever get inside of Google with a subpoena there’s little doubt that there would be sufficient evidence to perp walk many if not all senior executives right off to a criminal trial. (See, for example, “Google’s Guide to RICO“.) The only question is whether the government would be willing to let Google’s senior executives buy their way out of prison like the U.S. Department of Justice did when Google paid $500,000,000 to avoid prosecution for violations of the Controlled Substances Act.
Remember, in the drug case, the U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island was very clear that Google’s decision making to profit from advertising illegal drugs went to the highest levels of Google, including Larry Page according to the Wall Street Journal:
“Larry Page knew what was going on,” Peter Neronha, the Rhode Island U.S. Attorney who led the probe, said in an interview. “We know it from the investigation. We simply know it from the documents we reviewed, witnesses that we interviewed, that Larry Page knew what was going on.”
Google will always try to rely on the two principle safe harbors for secondary liability in US law (the DMCA and the CDA), usually with a high degree of sanctimony. But remember, these safe harbor’s don’t cover Google’s own bad acts–that’s one of the reasons that they paid $500,000,000 of the stockholders money and are currently trying to settle a massive stockholder class action case against Google and its board of directors.
Google’s own bad acts include the redistribution of pirate links in Google Alerts. However automated Google Alerts may be, some human somewhere decided that it was a good idea to deliver links to pirate material that would inevitably have the effect of driving even further traffic to pirate links, potentially the same works for which Google had already received a takedown notice.
When Google sends out a Google Alert with a link to an infringing site with social media links attached to that alert, I think Google is no longer merely passive in providing an information location tool. Google is promoting not only the link but is also profiting from data it gathers along the way and the traffic it drives to any advertising it serves if the site is a Google publisher (e.g., Adsense, Doubleclick).
Here’s how it looks with a pirate file by Janita:
And in case Google was wondering about myfreemp3, just consult the Transparency Report:
And here’s the Twitter link from the highlighted entry:
So if Google disables a link in search because it receives a valid DMCA notice, they can easily continue to distribute that link through Google Alerts. And these links are of Google’s own making, not the result of passive crawling.