Big news from Google -- their regular Transparency Reports will now include information about content takedown requests!
This means that it's about to get a lot easier to see and talk about the costs of copyright restrictions. Some background: under U.S. law, Google can protect itself from infringement claims by promptly handling so-called "takedown requests". A takedown request is when a copyright owner or their agent asks Google to remove content from its servers (or, in the case of the search engine, from being included in search results) because continuing to offer the content would violate the owner's copyright, and continuing to link to it in search results could be considered contributory infringement.
But how often are such requests made? Who makes them? Unless you worked at Google or a similarly large information-gathering organization, you'd have no way of knowing.
Now Google's going to tell us. From their announcement:
Today we’re expanding the Transparency Report with a new section on copyright. Specifically, we’re disclosing the number of requests we get from copyright owners (and the organizations that represent them) to remove Google Search results because they allegedly link to infringing content. We’re starting with search because we remove more results in response to copyright removal notices than for any other reason. So we’re providing information about who sends us copyright removal notices, how often, on behalf of which copyright owners and for which websites. As policymakers and Internet users around the world consider the pros and cons of different proposals to address the problem of online copyright infringement, we hope this data will contribute to the discussion.
The answer, by the way, turns out to be about a quarter of a million takedown requests per week and counting (and remember, they're starting with just their search engine, so this doesn't include YouTube or their other major content-aggregation areas yet). Just imagine the bureaucracy load on both sides for processing that kind of quanitity -- and imagine all the more interesting things that money could be going to, if it weren't processing disputes arising from state-granted monopolies on culture.
Unfortunately, the law that put in place the takedown request system forgot to build in any penalty for fraudulent or abusive requests, which do happen. In today's announcement, Google acknowledged that they deal with mistaken requests too:
At the same time, we try to catch erroneous or abusive removal requests. For example, we recently rejected two requests from an organization representing a major entertainment company, asking us to remove a search result that linked to a major newspaper’s review of a TV show. The requests mistakenly claimed copyright violations of the show, even though there was no infringing content. We’ve also seen baseless copyright removal requests being used for anticompetitive purposes, or to remove content unfavorable to a particular person or company from our search results. We try to catch these ourselves, but we also notify webmasters in our Webmaster Tools when pages on their website have been targeted by a copyright removal request, so that they can submit a counter-notice if they believe the removal request was inaccurate.
Their excellent FAQ offers more examples of incorrect requests they've received. It's not clear if they'll be publishing statistics on that, but they do link to a 2006 third-party analysis that found a "surprisingly high incidence of flawed takedowns".
Kudos to Google for shining a light where it has been dark for far too long!