RIAA says Google piracy policies are lacking

Google's Transparency Report on requests from copyright holders to halt access to URLs is misleading, say RIAA officials

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) Wednesday accused Google of not doing enough to stop Internet users from accessing Websites that carry pirated music and other copyrighted content.

The accusations follow Google's recent release of a so-called Transparency Report that lists and describes requests that the search firm receives from copyright holders to remove links to sites containing infringing content.

In a blog post, Brad Buckles, executive vice president for anti-piracy at the RIAA, blasted Google for releasing what he called a "misleading" report that lacked adequate transparency.

"Google is routinely directing people to unlawful sources of content" contrary to what the report suggests, Buckles said. "If Google truly doesn't want its search results directing people to materials that violate copyright laws, more more should be done to address this problem."

The Google report released last week includes details on all copyright-related content removal requests the company has received since July 2011.

The report showed that Google received 1,255,402 URL removal requests via its web form in the last month alone. Most of the URL removal requests have come from Microsoft or agents acting on the company's behalf.

According to Google, Microsoft or its representatives have asked Google to remove more than 2.5 million URLs, or a median of 48,700 URLs per week, from its search engine results since July 2011.

The next highest requester was NBC Universal, which asked Google to remove about 1 million URLs over the same period.

The RIAA requested that some 416,000 URLs be blocked during that time.

In all, a total of about 2,400 copyright owners have put in URL removal requests covering about more than 24,300 domains since last July.

Google noted than it complied with 97% of takedown requests at an average response time of 10 hours or less.

Google's copyrighted Transparency Report (the company maintains a similar list on government takedown requests) won a rare accolade from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The rights group, a prominent critic of Google's privacy record, praised the Transparency Report for shedding light on the behavior of copyright holders.

According to the RIAA's Buckles, however, the report isn't fully factual.

Buckles said that Google for places "artificial limits" on the number of queries that can be made by copyright holders to identify what they believe is infringing material.

"The number of queries they allow is miniscule, especially when you consider that Google handles more than 3 billion searches per day," he noted. "Google has denied requests to remove this barrier to finding the infringements."

Buckles accused Google of limiting the daily number of URL takedown requests that copyright holders can make using an automated Google tool. He also claimed that Google does nothing to prevent the fast creation of new links to infringing files.

For example, Buckles cites a website containing over 300 separate unauthorized copies of the same song that continues to be available via Google search despite several RIAA takedown notices.

"If 'take down' does not mean 'keep down,' then Google's limitations merely perpetuate the fraud wrought on copyright owners by those who game the system under the [Digital Millennium Copyright Act]," he said.

The RIAA's ability to find infringements is limited to what Google wants to show the trade body, contends an RIAA source who asked not to be named. "Our ability to send notices on those infringements is limited to a number they've come up with. One limitation leads to the next limitation. None of which is mentioned in its Transparency Report," the RIAA source said.

A Google spokeswoman today said the company doesn't impose limits on the number of Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notices that a copyright owner or reporting organization can submit.

"We do have some technical safeguards in our trusted partner program (where submitters may be using automated mechanisms to send large volumes) as a safeguard against accidental flooding of the system," the spokeswoman said in an email to Computerworld.

A source close to Google noted that the RIAA complaints are curious because Microsoft has been able to put in about 10 times as many takedown requests as the RIAA. The numbers seem to undercut the RIAA claims about artificial limits, the source said.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan, or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

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