Google Must Change Its Policy About Copyright Infringement Notification

By Daniel Scocco

We all know that copyright infringement is a big issue on the web right? It is almost as bad as the wild west. People go ripping content right and left, putting on their blogs and expecting to make a quick buck with AdSense. Apart from hurting web publishers and content creators, it is also bad for the web as whole because it creates an avalanche of crap websites and poor quality content.

Many of those splogs (spam content hosted on blogs) are hosted on Google services too. Blogger most notably, but recently they started appearing on Knol too.

Google is obviously not to be blamed for people using its services inappropriately, and they do have a policy that prohibits copyright infringement. The only (and huge) problem, however, is how Google handles the infringement notification process.

Here is a quote from the page where they describe it:

To file a notice of infringement with us, you must provide a written communication (by fax or regular mail — not by email, except by prior agreement) that sets forth the items specified below. Please note that you will be liable for damages (including costs and attorneys’ fees) if you materially misrepresent that a product or activity is infringing your copyrights. Indeed, in a recent case (please see http://www.onlinepolicy.org/action/legpolicy/opg_v_diebold/ for more information), a company that sent an infringement notification seeking removal of online materials that were protected by the fair use doctrine was ordered to pay such costs and attorneys fees. The company agreed to pay over $100,000. Accordingly, if you are not sure whether material available online infringes your copyright, we suggest that you first contact an attorney.

There are two things that I find weird on that:

1. Google requires a fax or regular mail letter for the infringement notifications. Now if you are outside the U.S., this is going to cost you money. Even if you are inside the U.S., it is going to be a huge annoyance and time waster, especially if you consider that you will likely be dealing with dozens if not hundreds of splogs ripping your content off.

Now they have all the rights to choose the way they want to be notified, but they should make the process of combating copyright infringement at least as easy as creating it in the first place. In other words, they should make it possible to file copyright infringement notifications via email. Either that or they should require a fax or regular mail letter for people that want to open a Blogger or Knol account.

All it takes for a guy to open a blogspot blog and start copying copyrighted material from around the web like there is no tomorrow is a valid email address. Now if someone is copying your content and you want to protect your rights, you will need to go through many more obstacles. Not cool.

2. The second thing that is weird is how they try to dissuade people from sending an infringement notification. Again it is in their rights to do so, but they should at least be consistent across their services.

How come when I sign up for a Blogger account I don’t see a message mentioning that if I copy content from around the web without permission from the authors I might be liable for damages too? How come they don’t mention the cases where people infringing on copyrights for commercial use were sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars?

If they try to dissuade people from sending copyright infringement notifications they should do the same with people wanting to infringe copyrights on the first place right?

Anyway I think this is a serious problem, and I think it is important for Google to review how it handles copyright infringement notification and allow publishers to send them via email.



Share

31 Responses to “Google Must Change Its Policy About Copyright Infringement Notification”

  • Matt

    Interesting article. The DMCA is very important, although it does need more work to keep up with changes in technology. I noticed a number of comments exhibiting substantial confusion too.

    For any company dealing with high volume, efficient procedures are extremely important, as is authenticating concerns to avoid even greater issues. But as a matter of legal right, one cannot be legitimately denied what is provide by law or statute with the addition of any steps or requirements not specified in the law or statue itself.

    Simply put, electronic submissions have to be allowed for NOCIs if such is allowed, not prohibited, and meets the requirements of the DMCA. If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t have to be allowed.

    In the case of Google, an additional requirement may be even more problematic. They state they automatically post NOCIs on another site and may publish it in their search results. Two problems here:

    1) If this is a stipulation and requirement to process and act on a legitimate NOCI, then it contains an extra clause and stipulation not required by the DMCA. Denying an NOCI on this basis means that Google would not likely be protected by any safe harbor clauses of the DMCA and increases the likelihood of being found liable for infringement in any fair court of law. (I say “fair” because I’ve seen at least one court decision that is extremely suspicious, and judges aren’t perfect in understanding or implying the law. They are human after all).

    2) Automatically publishing an NOCI without express permission of the IP holder is itself potentially an IP violation and certainly a privacy violation. The IP violation seems likely (although again, courts haven’t seemed a bit “wishy-washy” about communication and copyrights. Google’s current published processes are at least ironic, definitely problematic, and potentially more than just problematic.

Comments are closed.