by Kristina Chew
In its annual transparency report, Google reveals that it is receiving more than a million requests a month to remove sites from its search. The majority of these are not from governments concerned about the revelation of sensitive or unflattering information but from copyright owners including Microsoft, NBC Universal, Universal Music Ltd. and Sony Music. All told, Google now receives more than 250,000 requests a week, more than it did in total for 2009.
Just in the past month, Google received over 1.2 million requests for URLs to be removed from its search from over 23,000 websites on behalf of 1,322 copyright owners. Indeed, in 2011, Google received 3.3 million requests for removals; it expects that number to quadruple this year. The most targeted website was Filestube.com, which enables users to find downloadable files (audio, video and documents); file sharing site torrentz.eu was the next most-targeted. Google complies with 97% of removal requests and said that it usually takes about eleven hours to remove links.
As Dominic Ruche (from the Guardian via Raw Story) notes, the notable increase in removal requests follows the defeat of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which was supported by the largest media companies in the world and the likes of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). SOPA was virulently opposed by the technology community whose all-out online protest against it led to the measure being tabled.
Microsoft’s dominance is also its Achilles’ heel: 90 percent of all PCs run Windows and 95 percent of users use its Office software, so these products are “a major target for illegal file-sharers” and indeed, “the most pirated bits of software on the Web,” says Zack Whittaker in ZDNet. Microsoft can only do so much in fighting the “global piracy battle”; requesting that Google remove links to pirated copies of its software is often all that it can do.
Emphasizing that “transparency is a crucial element to making this system work well,” Fred von Lohmann, Google’s senior copyright counsel, notes that copyright holders are overstepping and even abusing their powers in some cases. As he writes on the Google blog:
At the same time, we try to catch erroneous or abusive removal requests. 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.
Media companies continue to express frustration, and exasperation, towards Google. Says BPI boss Geoff Taylor in the BBC,
“It’s wrong for Google to be wilfully blind to the clear data it has that particular sites are massive copyright infringers.”
“When Google has been told 100,000 times that sites like The Pirate Bay and beemp3 distribute music illegally, why do they come top – above Amazon and iTunes – when I search for ‘download music’? It’s irresponsible, it misleads consumers and if Google won’t sort it out voluntarily, Government should get on with doing something about it.”
Is Google being “willfully blind” — should governments step in and regulate Google’s search? Or should it be left to us users to avoid sites (and downloads) that infringe copyrights?