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.



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

  • Ajay

    I agree totally with this. A few years back I faced major issue of my content being copied onto Blogspot and was totally helpless.

    Getting this was indeed painful. First printing out the details, then faxing the same and following up.

    Well, needless to say I gave up!

  • http://resourcesandmoney.blogspot.com

    It is because they need to play lawyers and some expenses for the infringement case. Second, is that they need a handheld proof because not all software data are accepted in the court.

  • Daniel Scocco

    @http://resourcesandmoney

    Email is a valid form to send DMCA notifications. In fact most hosting providers and websites accept that.

    They got pay lawyers? So what? This does not removes the point of the article.

  • ROW

    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? Excellent point. Something they should look into. Moreover do you know that if a plagiarist counter file the DMCA claim, Google won’t do anything (it will resurrect the content on plagiarist website without checking the authenticity of counter claim) and you would have no option left than to approach court which would mean involving lots of $$ and time.

    Regarding the fax thing, there is a work around now. You can send DMCA to Google using email also, as I have mentioned on my post here http://reviewofweb.com/blogging/blogger-dmca-template/

  • Daniel Scocco

    @ROW, interesting. I will check that link out and test that email address to see if it works.

  • Ben

    Yes, using other people’s content and claiming it as your own is a big problem on the net. There is even a blog on a social network that shows you how to make money by doing this.

    Part of the problem, as I see it, is that there are a lot of sites promoting that you can make “big and easy money” on the net. Money and easy = do whatever it takes to make the money.

    Another part of the problem, is that most people don’t now about copyright or copyright law. To them, anything on the net is free and can be freely used.

    As far as Google enforcing copyright law, I think that they would rather wait until the get a cease and desist letter from a judge before taking down a Blogger site that is violating copyright law.

    Lastly, Google makes money from these sites, so I don’t see a real incentive for them to chase copyright offenders.

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Ben, exactly. Hence why I think web users need to let Google know their problem on this issue.

  • Google is not there to pursuit spammers

    Now guys,
    I know how annoying it is when people steal your content. I was fighting this myself not once, but I strongly disagree here.

    We need bear in mind however that Google is not there to police theft. It costs them money and effort and reduces their shareholders wealth and they are not required to do that. They act upon spam if you send it via mail and that is already great of them.

    If they moved to email, imagine how many reports would they be getting every day. Imagine how difficult it can sometimes be to decide who stole from whom (it’s not always that easy to say). It is also not always easy to say if something is a spam or not just yet. Imagine how many people they’d need and how much money it would cost… and it would not earn them a penny. Imaine them getting sued for acting on something that turns out not to have bee a spam. No wonder they discourage reporting. In their shoes I’d do the same.

    But moving away from money..
    It is not Google’s responsibiliy to fight crime – it’s the law enforcement’s. Each country should provide an easy method of reporting on-line theft as it is the police that should fight it, not Google. The only way Google could be held resposnible is by introducing law similar to the Anti Money Laundering Laws (AML), by which financial institutions have to report all suspicions of mony laundering to authorities and have to implement systems to detect these crimes. This would force companies like Google, hosting companies, registrars or whoever is able and whereever it would make most sense to report suspicious content to authorities, which would then launch investigations, take cases to court and there only prove that the theft actually occured. Google actually does not even have authority to make that call.

  • PB

    I totally agree with this. I’ve had splogs rip off my content so often and everytime I’m stymied by that fax in letter thing as I’m outside of the USA. Its the age of the internet. Google being in the forefront, should accept email notices.

    Thanks for writing this and I’ve stumbled it to get the word out.

  • Frida

    I agree. Especially about educating people about copyright. If everyone had more knowledge, a few people would still copy other peoples stuff, but it wouldn’t be as easy id the majority of people really could see that it is the wrong thing to do. This part is something we can all do too, by writing about it as often as possible!

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Google is not there to pursuit spammers, let me answer to each of your arguments individually:

    “We need bear in mind however that Google is not there to police theft. It costs them money and effort and reduces their shareholders wealth and they are not required to do that. They act upon spam if you send it via mail and that is already great of them.”

    No. They act upon spam and copyright infringement because they must, else they would be going against the law.

    “If they moved to email, imagine how many reports would they be getting every day. Imagine how difficult it can sometimes be to decide who stole from whom (it’s not always that easy to say). It is also not always easy to say if something is a spam or not just yet. Imagine how many people they’d need and how much money it would cost… and it would not earn them a penny. Imaine them getting sued for acting on something that turns out not to have bee a spam. No wonder they discourage reporting. In their shoes I’d do the same.”

    The DMCA law clearly specifies what needs to be included on the infringement notification, and it also says how the service provides needs to react. So they wouldn’t need to guess or analyze, just follow what the law says. Would it cost them money to answer to all the complaints? Sure. So what? It is a consequence of the business they decided to pursue (i.e. Blogger.com).

    “It is not Google’s responsibiliy to fight crime – it’s the law enforcement’s. ”

    If the crime is taking place on a service that Google provides for free, like Blogger.com, it sure is their responsibility to fight it.

  • George

    When I started having problems with this, I wasn’t happy with the procedure either. It’s pretty easy to use blogger as a splog and Google has made it hard for us to complain about it. I hope your post makes a difference.

  • Jonathan Bailey

    Daniel,

    I agree with you completely and this is something I’ve written about on my site a few times as well, but I wanted to alert you to an article I wrote about how to email a DMCA to Google.

    http://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2008/07/22/how-to-email-a-dmca-to-google/

    There IS a way to do it, it is just tricky. I can vouch that it does work.

    Still, it would be nice if they would eliminate the need for such ugly hacks, they are most unsightly in this digital age.

    Thank you for the help in spreading the word!

  • Rick Regan

    “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.”

    – Which he can get as easily as his blogspot account!

    If Google (and others) made it just a tad harder to get these accounts, most of these problems would go away. Why not require a real name and address, like for domain registrations?

  • Guilty as charged

    Those who copy content from a source should at least post a link back to the original content. I think that would settle this.

  • B. Durant

    I’ve more or less given up trying to combat the scrapers. There’s just not enough hours in the day. And I’ve got a tiny blog compared to many others. I can’t image how this and other large blogs can even put a dent into the problem.

  • Blog Expert

    I agree! But then again they need to change a lot of things.

  • George – LogoDesign.org

    Good post. I agree, although I can see how if Google was to make it easy to report infringement they would get completely swamped with reports, at the same time it’s not like they don’t have the money to hire the man-power to deal with it.

  • Jodith

    “We need bear in mind however that Google is not there to police theft. It costs them money and effort and reduces their shareholders wealth and they are not required to do that. They act upon spam if you send it via mail and that is already great of them.”

    “No. They act upon spam and copyright infringement because they must, else they would be going against the law.”
    ______________
    Actually, they aren’t responsible unless they have proof that copyright has actually been infringed. The law gives 3rd party hosters like this coverage if they don’t immediately take down sites accused of copyright. And there’s a reason for this.

    What if the scraper sent a letter saying you had infringed on their copyright? Should Google (or whoever you host with) take them at their word and take down your site?

    There’s a huge issue right now with big media sending out copyright infringement notices on what is actually fair use of content (quoting articles, spoofs, etc.). The EFF is fighting to get hosts to stop deleting content out of hand before the site even has a chance to respond to the notice (in particular, Google, who deleted someone’s entire blog with no notice for what ended up being a fair use issue). The host does not have to respond until the matter is actually determined to be a copyright infringement, and I support that as a matter of free speech.

    I know it’s annoying to deal with scrapers. I’ve dealt with them myself. But in the over all context of things, I’d rather the hosts have some leeway in whether they automatically delete things or not.

    And to my knowledge, I don’t know that Google hasn’t responded when it’s received a valid take down letter with proof of the infringement. I know it’s annoying to have to send an actual letter, but unfortunately the case law for using electronic documentation isn’t set in stone, so I understand why Google is reticent to accept them. Let’s face it, it’s easy to fake electronic documentation.

  • Jonathan Bailey

    I have to correct a few points in Judith’s post as I think it might be either incorrect or misleading. Either way, it is worth the time to be clear.

    First, neither the DMCA nor the EDEC in the EU say anything about providing proof. Though there are many requirements about the format that such a letter has to take, none of the requirements state that you have to provide proof, just the following things for a DMCA notice.

    This is taken straight from http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap5.html#512

    – A physical or electronic signature of a person authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.
    – Identification of the copyrighted work claimed to have been infringed, or, if multiple copyrighted works at a single online site are covered by a single notification, a representative list of such works at that site.
    – Identification of the material that is claimed to be infringing or to be the subject of infringing activity and that is to be removed or access to which is to be disabled, and information reasonably sufficient to permit the service provider to locate the material.
    – Information reasonably sufficient to permit the service provider to contact the complaining party, such as an address, telephone number, and, if available, an electronic mail address at which the complaining party may be contacted.
    – A statement that the complaining party has a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.
    – A statement that the information in the notification is accurate, and under penalty of perjury, that the complaining party is authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.

    In short, the filer provides information about the infringing work, where it can be found and swears under penalty of perjury that the notice is accurate. If those requirements are complete, then the host or search engine, if they wish to enjoy safe harbor protections, need to remove the work.

    On the topic of signatures, the ESIGN act defines an electronic signature as “an electronic sound, symbol, or process, attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record.”

    In short, it can be almost anything, including just typing your name. However, a convention of using /s/ before the typed name has emerged over the years to indicate electronic signatures.

    Regarding false DMCA notices, yes, it is a huge issue but the law affords stiff penalties for those that knowingly file false notices. The Diebold case, for one, shows what happens when a company files a DMCA notice to silence criticism. The companies ended up paying $125,000 in damages to OPG for its false notices.

    Finally, if you can fake electronic documentation, you can fake faxes or emails. There’s nothing in a DMCA notice that can’t be faked in a physical notice. This is especially true with eFaxing, which blurs the line between email and faxing even more. I can scan a signature and email my notice into Google, which does work, or I can fax it. Either way I can fake the information just as easily.

    Though I agree that Google has always responded promptly to notices that have met its standard, I have to be honest and say that their standard is higher than what the law demands and harmful to those that wish to file legitimate complaints, especially when BlogSpot is the host of a spam blog.

    I agree search engines should not be the front lines in the war on scraping for a lot of reasons, but Google is also one of the world’s largest hosts and that is where my issue with their system begins.

  • Busby SEO Test Gary Viray

    I find that their “flag blog” feature usually works and try to seek out help from friends to also flag it therefore attracting higher priority attention from Blogger.com folks.

    There was a time as well when a splog was able to take my blogspot domain name from me (ex ***.blogspot.com) and surprised that I end up having a different url (ex. ***1.blogspot.com). I have to e-mail several times to get my url back as it was already a PR4.

    But definitely, their process of filing report complaints should be improved to support or help the victims rather than protect the abusers.

  • Marita

    I’ve tried to get content off other sites by contacting the hosting companies. I’ve gotten pretty much the same response you got from Google. So it’s definitely not Google specific.

    Maybe this procedure is necessary to make sure only serious requests go through and to prevent tons of spam. Nevertheless, if anything, the hosting companies or Google should threaten the abusers and not the victims.

  • Erica DeWolf

    Great post and I totally agree. The quote you provided seems to say “it’s really not our fault, and it’s going to be difficult for you to fight it. And once again, it’s not our fault.”

    The fact that they unintentionally assist in spamblogging means they may be partially responsible. Even if they’re not…take responsibility.

  • Moise Levi

    I have seen bloggers copy my content , but they often place my link as “the source”
    I guess its ok if they do show the source.
    They sell ads, I do as well.
    They do bring me some traffic

  • Suri

    Very much accepted with the author views. When i submitted the ulrs of spam blogs who copied word to word of my blog ,Google want the same you mentioned and even laymen can understand it just by having a look at the url’s given .

    They blog url’s can clearly demonstrates the dates of my blog with previous dates and copied content with later dates. At least in this kind of cases Google can judge it itself and remove duplicate content.

  • Vamsi

    Very Good discussion indeed.

    I would say, Google can apply an automated filter (a special one) to monitor atleast its own service (Blogger) if there are spam blogs. Spam blogs speak for themselves. No point in asking proof. Google already has content verifying algos which decide the fate of several websites/blogs copyign content. When most of the splogs sit on Blogger, why even ask for a proof when they can simply write a strong algo to take care of these splogs? I think the word “Responsibility” needs to be explained to them!!

  • Associate Money

    A lot of content has actually been rehashed on the net. Just the topic of attracting traffic has been done to death. I have come across similar top-ten lists on StumbleUpon several times.

    I guess Google is aware of the problem and the “roadblocks” are just to deter frivolous claims and subsequent counter-claims.

  • Jimmy Bergmark

    Great to see in the comments that there is a way to email Google as well.

  • Bill in Detroit

    @the sploggers reading this:
    If anyone wants to copy up to 20% of every one of my posts, I’m fine with that — so long as they also include a ‘dofollow’ link back to the source.
    .
    @everyone else:
    Frankly, if the matter isn’t big enough to reduce it to paper, sign and stamp it, it isn’t big enough to worry Google with. Once they get the letter, even the most cursory of investigations into your allegation is going to cost them many multiples of what you have involved. And they HAVE to do some sort of investigation into the matter, because they have to justify what they have done to the splogger. If your claim was false, then they have harmed an innocent party merely on your false accusation. One of the posters above pointed to exactly that circumstance.
    .
    Some of the posters have been rallying around the war cry of “Responsibility”. Well, the very first responsibility is for you to write the take down letter. Google ain’t your nanny. That’s YOUR copyright, not Googles … get in there and protect it!

  • jas

    You really have no understanding of laws in this country.

    google is not doing anything wrong here.

  • 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.

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