Instead of griping about growing flood of takedowns, why doesn’t Google change its approach?

Poor Google….bad, bad copyright holders….that’s essentially the subtext beneath headlines that scream, “Google received over 75 million copyright takedown requests in February-The company is processing over 100,000 links each and every hour.”   My response–why not try a different approach?

The massive volume of takedowns that Google deals with every hour is a sign of its failure, not– as some would have us believe–overzealous rights holders.  Dealing with the copyright notices is a byproduct of Google’s business model and its continued refusal to take meaningful action against the rampant piracy enabled by its products (search, blogger, drive, etc).

google-sign-post-piracyAs Google’s empire has grown over the years, its teflon-resistant coating to all things copyright has thickened.  Year after year, the company has spun the truth about its role in propagating online piracy by demonizing piracy’s victims.  The 97% that send valid takedown notices are dissed, while the 3% receiving erroneous (or incomplete) notices are somehow portrayed as victims???  It’s a ridiculous posit, but one Google has repeatedly burnished so as to be accepted as truth.

Why not try to “do a better job” reducing piracy and protecting creators?

Just last week the folks at Google trumpeted their latest initiative to do a better job to minimize takedown and monetization mistakes on YouTube.  If the company really wants to do a “better job” why not assemble a “team” to figure out better ways to deal with the rampant (and growing) problem of copyright abuse throughout its products?  Google could employ a team approach to refine and improve its DMCA takedown system company-wide.

Market forces could work to encourage compliance with copyright law

If processing 100,000 takedowns every hour is a burden, why not do something concrete to reduce those numbers?  I’d suggest starting with pirate websites that appear at the top of the reported domains list each month.  Take a look at those domains and you’ll find that one reason Google receives so many takedown notices is due to the fact that many sites hosting pirated content ignore copyright takedown requests.  To protect their work from thieves, creators  have little recourse but to move down the food chain and turn to Google to remove the infringing links.  If only Google applied some appropriate (temporary) pressure, perhaps it could influence a change in these site’s non-compliant behavior.

Why not temporarily block top offenders? Pirate sites could risk losing traffic for failure to deal with takedown requests

Google-Pirate-takedowns-listWhat type of pressure am I talking about? I’m suggesting Google create a team to focus on the domains at the top of the complaint list.  Google purports to down-rank these domains already, but those claims don’t match up with reality.  The company should go further to investigate, and temporarily block, the top offenders from Google’s search results.

If Google blocked the top domains reported for piracy for 30 days, site operators might be induced to better respond to copyright complaints, or risk losing crucial Google search traffic. In essence, it could be a self-regulating, temporary punishment leading ultimately to a correction…

  • Domain blocked
  • Domain cleans up its act
  • Complaints to Google decrease
  • Domain drops out of top offender list
  • Domain’s links restored to Google search

Google top domains reported for piracyIf a site operator continued to ignore takedown requests and the domain remains atop of the complaint list, the block could be extended to 90 days, then 180, etc.  The initial blockade could be reviewed by a human team, but once added a site is in the queue, Google’s much vaunted algorithms could likely handle such a process.

How many domains on the list should be considered?  Taking a look at the monthly report it seems that domains with more than 100k reported months might be a place to start.  That would mean the top 100 offenders would be blocked for (at least) 30 days.  I’m sure a reasonable cut-off point could –I’ll leave that to the Google team to figure out specifics.

If a carrot and stick approach like this were implemented by Google, perhaps it would nudge (some) sites into respecting copyright law while simultaneously reducing the number of complaints it handles.  Create a middle ground where the rights of creators are balanced against the dubious “free speech” mantra Google so often wields to justify (lack of ) response to online piracy.  If, according to Google, whole-site removal sends the wrong message to other countries by favoring over-inclusive private censorship over the rule of law,” then why not at least try a more moderate approach?

Of course Google’s modus operandi is to deflect, not seek compromise, and its flacks will undoubtedly argue the company dare not become copyright police. Meanwhile, in other spheres, Google manages to be pretty effective using technology to detect online child porn activity.  Of course piracy is not child porn, but there’s really no excuse for Google not to employ its tech largess to find a path forward to dampen online piracy (and takedown requests).

Google pretends to fight piracyThere have been other examples industry developing voluntary best practices in the war against piracy–Why not Google?

If Google were to initiate such a reasonable approach, one that could encourage voluntary compliance with copyright law, both the company and rights holders could benefit.

Websites hosting pirated content might begin responding to copyright takedown requests, rights holders would not be forced to turn to Google for takedowns, and the company wouldn’t be processing 100K takedowns per hour.   It would be a win for creators, Google and consumers.

Isn’t it worth trying something different? Would Google be willing to consider a new approach to a growing problem? Given its stubborn obstinacy, probably not–but it never hurts to ask.  I’d happy to team up with Google to help find that middle ground.