July 5, 2012 | By Parker Higgins and Kurt Opsahl

Top 10 Takedowns in Google's Copyright Transparency Report

When Google released its new Copyright Transparency Report on takedown requests of its Search results, we got new insights into the massive number of complaints the search giant receives. We also saw that there are many requests that don't seem to meet the standard of a "good faith belief" of infringement. Google said in the report that it refuses to comply with requests that are obviously inaccurate or intentionally abusive, which accounts for about 3% of the total. While Google deserves to be commended for that example of good citizenship, they can't catch everything.

The following list shows the Top 10 takedowns that stood out as looking like misuse of the DMCA.  It's by no means exhaustive, and compiled simply by looking through some of the listings that caught our eye. We've said before: in practice, the DMCA's notice-and-takedown procedures are ripe for abuse. These takedowns show how that abuse could happen.

  1. Microsoft sent a takedown for a Chilling Effects report on a prior takedown. As you can imagine, the original takedown notice can hardly be considered infringing.  Microsoft has informed us that it has changed its process, so hopefully this will be its last takedown of a takedown report.
  2. Microsoft sent a takedown for a YouTube video that allegedly infringes the Windows OS (7, 8, XP, or Vista). It's not clear how there could be a substantial amount of the copyrighted expression of an operating system in a video, but the video has also been removed — so we may never know.
  3. HBO asked to take down the search result for the Spanish version of the Wikipedia Game of Thrones page, saying it infringes the TV show. The Wikipedia article as it appeared at the time is still available, and we can't see anything infringing about it.
  4. Similarly, Sony sent a takedown for the search result of the Wikipedia page on the Swedish film The Girl Who Played with Fire, saying it infringes the copyright in the 2011 Girl with the Dragon Tattoo film. It hard to see how: The thumbnail of the movie poster is not only a fair use, but also of a different film.
  5. Questionable takedown are not just for large companies: In this case, a website about home remedies for lice sent a take down for a Washington Post article on lice. Other than the common subject, the two pages are not substantially similar.
  6. The American Museum of Natural History sent a takedown on the search results of allegedly infringing content. The supposedy problematic content is on the museum's own site (ftp.amnh.org, log in as guest) and the original work is listed as Google's cached version of the same URL. 
  7. 20th Century Fox took down the link to an article by the San Francisco Chronicle alleging infringement of the movie Chronicle. The article, which is about public transportation for students, doesn't have anything to do with the film. It does include the word "Chronicle," however, as it's the name of the paper.
  8. Warner Brothers sent a takedown for the search results of the IMDB pageApple trailer siteHulu clip, and other movie time listings for their film Wrath of the Titans.
  9. 20th Century Fox sent a takedown of the search result linking to the the Terra Nova High School home page, for allegedly infringing a TV show called Terra Nova. Terra Nova High School was founded in 1961, so it's unlikely they had the 2011 TV show in mind.
  10. A key SOPA/PIPA post from Techdirt was "censored by a bogus DMCA takedown notice." Techdirt wrote about the takedown, triggering "further review." The post was reinstated into the Google search index.

Given the importance of Google search results in driving traffic, getting removed from its index can be profoundly negative for a website. Moreover, site owners may not always know they've been removed. Google is doing the right thing by monitoring for obvious cases of abuse, and these transparency reports should draw more attention to the reckless or malicious takedowns they are receiving.

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