In the wake of Google’s move to allegedly downgrade search results linking to notorious pirate websites, it’s worth looking at another de facto search engine, closely linked to Google, that so far seems impervious to calls for change. In many ways it renders Google’s removal of reported infringing links, moot. The “search engine” I’m referring to is none other than Chilling Effects, (name changed to Lumen in November 2015)a Google supported DMCA database operated by the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) and a consortium of law clinics.
This database archiving DMCA takedown notices reported to Google (and a few other service providers) was supposedly created to provide “transparency” for the DMCA process, but unfortunately it’s also gained a reputation for being used as a de facto cudgel by service providers like Google to dissuade rights holders sending takedown notices. After all, before one sends a takedown notice to Google one must acknowledge this warning:
Please note that a copy of each legal notice we receive is sent to a third-party which may publish and annotate it (with your personal information removed). As such, the content submitted in this form will be forwarded to Chilling Effects (http://www.chillingeffects.org) for publication…For products like Google Web Search, a link to your published notice will be displayed in Google’s search results in place of the removed content.
Using Chilling Effects to find pirated music and movies is easier than using Google search
What’s even more troubling is the content of the database itself. Yes, Google might reluctantly remove a pirate link from search results, but the infringing link lives on–conveniently available via Chilling Effects. In effect, the database acts a shadow site for pirate links removed from Google search. Using Chilling Effects to search for pirated movies and music is actually easier that using Google. Using Google, one has to search through various results in order to actually find valid links. Meanwhile, search results on Chilling Effects provide results that offer infringing links in a convenient, clean lists. Great for would-be thieves–not so great for content creators.
This morning, using the Chilling Effects database search engine, I was able to quickly find active pirated streams for the recently released movie, Dracula Untold*. All I had to do was type in the title, click my mouse, and choose a link from the DMCA notices that popped up in the results. I chose to use a DMCA notice sent to Google by NBC Universal that reported 762 infringing links. See the graphic below to see how just how simple it was.
Chilling Effects’ refusal to redact the actual infringing links included in DMCA notices has long been a source of contention. Now, however, it seems that some clever piracy entrepreneurs have taken it to a new, efficient extreme by creating a search engine that can leverage links reported via DMCA notices stored by Chilling Effects to provide users with access to pirated movies and music.
According to TorrentFreak a site called FileSoup offers both a search engine for (removed) torrent links, but has also developed new technology dubbed Necromancer that according to claims, will crawl the Chilling Effects database and Google’s own transparency report for DMCA notices it has received:
The operators of FileSoup also addressed indirect search engine takedowns. Every week rightsholders force Google to remove torrent listings from its search results. For this problem FileSoup says it has a solution, and a controversial one it is too.
The team behind the site say they have developed a web crawler designed to pull the details of content subjected to DMCA notices from two sources – Google’s Transparency Report and the Chilling Effects Clearing House. From here the links are brought back to life.
“We created a technology that crawls DMCA notices and resurrects the torrent webpage under a different URL so it can appear in search results again. It was rather complicated to sharpen it, but eventually it works pretty well. We will use it on FileSoup.com for all the websites we proxy,” FileSoup explain.
Meanwhile, according to its website, Chilling Effects claims to be performing a public service:
Our goals are to educate the public, to facilitate research about the different kinds of complaints and requests for removal–both legitimate and questionable–that are being sent to Internet publishers and service providers, and to provide as much transparency as possible about the “ecology” of such notices, in terms of who is sending them and why, and to what effect.
While its purported goals may appear laudable, one has to ask, why is it that an organization (run by a consortium of law school “clinics” and the Google-funded Electronic Frontier Foundation) can’t achieve its objective without also serving as backup source to find pirated content?
With Chilling Effects acting as a repository for pirate links removed from Google, what options do rights holders have now? We dutifully send DMCA notices to Google to protect our work from thieves, only to find our efforts are really an exercise in futility thanks to Chilling Effects? Are we supposed to send takedown notices to Chilling Effects to take down the very links we asked Google to remove in the first place? If we send a DMCA notice to Chilling Effects is it archived in the database too? Ultimately, Chilling Effects is really just a fun-house hall of mirrors where online thieves have the last laugh.
In crafting the DMCA, is this what lawmakers had in mind when they carved out a “safe harbor” provision? Does the Chilling Effects database really protect innovation online? At the moment, the site’s chief role seems to be as a resource for those who want to rip off creators. Chilling Effects is not working in the public’s interest, it’s working in the pirate’s.
*For the record, this is how I conducted my search using Chilling Effects database:
- Reviewed Rotten Tomatoes to find a current/popular film title.
- Went to Chilling Effects and entered film’s title (Dracula Untold) into search.
- Clicked randomly one of the first results in those infringing links listed.
- The DMCA notice I clicked on happened to be from NBCUniversal (to Google) and included 700+ links. I selected one near the top and it took me to a full stream of the film online.