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Google Blocks Pirated Search Results Prophylactically

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MrLobaLoba

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google-water.pngOn an average day, Google processes more than three million takedown notices from copyright holders, and that’s for its search engine alone.

Under the current DMCA legislation, US-based Internet service providers are expected to remove infringing links, if a copyright holder complains.

This process shields these services from direct liability. In recent years there has been a lot of discussion about the effectiveness of the system, but Google has always maintained that it works well.

This was also highlighted by Google’s copyright counsel Caleb Donaldson, in an article he wrote for the American Bar Association’s publication Landslide.

“The DMCA provided Google and other online service providers the legal certainty they needed to grow,” Donaldson writes.

“And the DMCA’s takedown notices help us fight piracy in other ways as well. Indeed, the Web Search notice-and-takedown process provides the cornerstone of Google’s fight against piracy.”

The search engine does indeed go beyond ‘just’ removing links. The takedown notices are also used as a signal to demote domains. Websites for which it receives a lot of takedown notices will be placed lower in search results, for example.

These measures can be expanded and complemented by artificial intelligence in the future, Google’s copyright counsel envisions.

“As we move into a world where artificial intelligence can learn from vast troves of data like these, we will only get better at using the information to better fight against piracy,” Donaldson writes.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a buzz-term that has a pretty broad meaning nowadays. Donaldson doesn’t go into detail on how AI can fight piracy. It could help to spot erroneous notices, on the one hand, but can also be applied to filter content proactively.

The latter is something Google is slowly opening up to.

Over the past year, we’ve noticed on a few occasions that Google is processing takedown notices for non-indexed links. While we assumed that this was an ‘error’ on the sender’s part, it appears to be a new policy.

“Google has critically expanded notice and takedown in another important way: We accept notices for URLs that are not even in our index in the first place. That way, we can collect information even about pages and domains we have not yet crawled,” Donaldson writes.

In other words, Google blocks URLs before they appear in the search results, as some sort of piracy vaccine.

“We process these URLs as we do the others. Once one of these not-in-index URLs is approved for takedown, we prophylactically block it from appearing in our Search results, and we take all the additional deterrent measures listed above.”

Some submitters are heavily relying on the new feature, Google found. In some cases, the majority of the submitted URLs in a notice are not indexed yet.

The search engine will keep a close eye on these developments. At TorrentFreak, we also found that copyright holders sometimes target links that don’t even exist. Whether Google will also accept these takedown requests in the future, is unknown.

It’s clear that artificial intelligence and proactive filtering are becoming more and more common, but Google says that the company will also keep an eye on possible abuse of the system.

“Google will push back if we suspect a notice is mistaken, fraudulent, or abusive, or if we think fair use or another defense excuses that particular use of copyrighted content,” Donaldson notes.

Artificial intelligence and prophylactic blocking surely add a new dimension to the standard DMCA takedown procedure, but whether it will be enough to convince copyright holders that it works, has yet to be seen.

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