Google’s Baby Steps on Copyright

Yesterday Google’s General Counsel posted an article on the company’s public policy blog outlining a number of steps that the company intends to take to curb misuse of copyright through its services.  Although they have been given a considerable amount of news media attention, they’re strictly baby steps.

Google’s announced steps include these:

  1. Turnaround time on DMCA 512 takedown notices reduced to an average of 24 hours or less.
  2. Google’s new “autocomplete” search feature will be changed so that terms frequently used for infringement (e.g. “free movie downloads” or “bittorrent” or “Lady Gaga MP3”) aren’t shown.
  3. Tools to help expel websites from AdSense, Google’s profit juggernaut, which display infringing content.  Copyright owners will be able to use the same tools to identify free-riding websites as they do to request DMCA takedowns.
  4. Investigation into ways to enhance search result standings for links to legitimate as opposed to infringing content.


The only truly interesting one of these is the third one, where Google proposes to use actual tools (for copyright owners) to help prevent free-riding ad revenue. Currently, using AdSense alongside infringing content is a breach of AdSense policy, but there is no efficient way of enforcing the policy.  In fact, one could argue that offering these tools will save Google money by reducing the manual effort necessary to address free-riding complaints.  (Although, given that it will also save complainers time and effort, it’s likely to be a win-win.)

Number four may even lay Google open to accusations of censoring its search results to favor Big Media — accusations which have already appeared in the comments to the original blog post.

The common theme among these planned developments is one of consistency with Google’s existing stance on copyright: that it’s content owners’ responsibility to identify content that they believe is being used in connection with a Google service without authorization.  More particularly, that it’s not Google’s own responsibility to police its services for infringement.  (No, the autocomplete feture doesn’t count; it only saves would-be infringers some keystrokes.)

Google’s position is the one that prevailed in Google’s recent summary judgment victory against Viacom.  In fact, in what is surely a curious non-coincidence, Viacom filed its expected appeal of that case to the Second Circuit just today.  Google’s steps related to the notice-and-takedown provision of US copyright law (known among copyright geeks as DMCA 512, or just 512 for short) look like they are intended to bolster Google’s position in that case, which is that it fulfills the existing copyright law not just grudgingly but faithfully and expeditiously.

Even so, Google equivocates in its announced enhancement of its 512-related tools.  It claims 24-hour expected response time for those for those “who use the tools responsibly,” meaning that it reserves the right to ignore takedown requests that it believes are made indiscriminately.  It also plans to introduce improved counter-notice tools for those who believe that 512 notices resulted in improper takedowns.

No wonder copyright interests such as RIAA and MPAA are quoted in press stories as saying that these steps are welcome but that Google should be doing much more.  No, Google hasn’t “jumped sides in [the] copyright war,” as CNET’s Greg Sandoval put it in his piece today.  On the contrary, it’s sticking faithfully to its own script.

One comment

  1. […] than a day after I pooh-poohed announcements made by Google’s general counsel about supposed steps the company is taking to enhance copyright enforcement over its services, […]

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