Google releases data on piracy, takes copyright infringement pretty seriously

Ever wondered what Google does when copyright holders complain their work is being pirated? Now we know. On Thursday, Google released a huge amount of data on how it responds to copyright-related takedown requests.

Seth Wenig/AP
Google recently released data on how it responds to complaints of copyright infringement on third-party sites. Here, Google CEO Larry Page speaks at a news conference in New York on May 21, 2012.

We've already gotten a detailed look into Google's response to government requests for personal data -- but it turns out the search-engine giant spends a lot of time protecting intellectual property, as well. Each month, Google removes more than 1 million links to content that infringes on copyright, including music, movies, and software. That's just one of the surprises from the data Google released on Thursday, which details the copyright notices it receives via its online takedown request form.

Since 1998, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has required search engines to remove links to infringing content at the request of the copyright holder; if the search engine refuses, they may themselves be liable for the copyright infringement.

This is the first time a major search engine has made public the data on its response to takedown notices, and the data could have a big impact on the political scene. As politicans debate Internet legislation such as the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act -- a kind of cousin to last year's twin SOPA and PIPA online piracy bills -- they'll have the benefit of a clearer picture of how existing copyright protection measures are being implemented.

For its part, Google says it complies with 97 percent of the DMCA takedown requests it receives, and boasts an average turnaround time of 10 hours between the submission of a valid takedown notice and removal of the offending link. (Google's FAQ notes that it does receive clearly frivolous takedown requests from time to time -- such as a movie studio requesting the removal of a movie review from a major newspaper's web site).

It turns out that Microsoft is, by far, the copyright owner most keen to protect its intellectual property. Redmond targeted nearly 550,000 links last month (out of a total of about 1.24 million), followed by the British Recorded Music Industry and NBC/Universal with about 150,000 takedown requests each.

And the infringers? The most targeted domain last month was, a Polish search engine that itself searches file-sharing and -uploading sites, with more than 43,000 links removed. In second and third place were the Finnish torrent site and file-sharing site 4shared. Strangely absent from the list of top offenders? The Pirate Bay, perhaps the most conspicuous -- and certainly the most widely publicized -- online repository of pirated material. The Pirate Bay came in 13th place last month.

It's worth pointing out that this isn't a complete historical record. The data only covers takedown requests that Google receives through its online form, not those received by mail or fax. It excludes requests aimed at YouTube and other Google subsidiaries, and it only goes back to July 2011, near the time when Google first began automating the takedown request process. But still, Google says the public data covers more than 95% of the copyright removal requests it's received for search, meaning it gives a pretty accurate picture of Google's compliance with the DMCA.

What do you think about Google's efforts at transparency? Does the data raise any new questions? Sound off in the comments section below.

For more tech news, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut.

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