Why does Google make it so damn difficult to send a DMCA notice?

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Google DMCA Takedown MazeGoogle sets up roadblocks at every step of the DMCA process, doesn’t provide DMCA agent’s email address, and requires senders to login to a Google account

As the U.S. Copyright Office solicits public comments for its study to evaluate the impact and effectiveness of the safe harbor provisions contained in section 512 of the (DMCA) Digital Millennium Copyright Act it’s worth examining how Google–the Sugar Daddy of pirate purveyors– openly skirts the law to obstruct the process at every turn.

Of course Google would have you believe it’s the victim when it comes to enforcing the DMCA.  Its flacks regularly bleat about the millions of DMCA notices the company processes each week–a small price for profiting (indirectly) off the lucrative myriad of online exchanges it provides for pirated content.  As I’ve written before, Google’s millions of takedowns is a “mess of its own making.”

What about those on the other end of the pipeline–the victims whose only recourse is to send a DMCA notice in order to have their (stolen) movies, music, books, etc. removed from Google websites?  For these creators, Google’s DMCA process becomes a maze of twists and turns that, more often than not, leads back to the beginning.

Pity creators who have to send Google a DMCA takedown notice.

  • Google doesn’t provide the email address of its designated DMCA agent (as required by law)

  • Google requires users to send takedown requests via online forms

  • Google makes finding the correct form a laborious 9 step process

  • Once the correct form is found, Google requires DMCA senders to login to a Google account

  • Google doesn’t provide clear URL on pirated files forcing rights holders to drill down further into the abyss to find the correct URL to report the pirated file

Most websites–say for example Vimeo--post copyright or DMCA links at the bottom of each page.

Vimeo follows DMCA law
Vimeo makes it easy to find DMCA contact information and online form

Does Google, king of the internet,  follow Vimeo’s example?  Don’t be silly.

In sharp contrast to Vimeo’s example, Google’s apparent goal is to make the DMCA takedown process as onerous as possible. (Note the irony since, with its profitable products, Google has mastered the art of making user experience as seamless as possible).  

Unlike Vimeo, on Google sites there’s no handy copyright link at the bottom of every page and unlike Vimeo, there’s a myriad of online DMCA forms rather than one.  I realize Google offers a number of products, but for simplicity’s sake, why not use ONE form and direct users to check a box for the specific product involved? Of course that would be make the DMCA process too easy, an achievement Google has no interest in pursuing.

Instead, Google has a set up DMCA process that forces users to embark upon a time-consuming quest–a journey that only the determined will complete.

If you start you takedown efforts on Google by looking for an actual DMCA contact you’ll come up empty.  The Google contacts page merely drops you have at the first stop on its never-ending DMCA merry-go-round.

DMCA Google contact maze
Unlike Vimeo’s clean and direct approach, Google does everything possible to muddy the waters and make sending a DMCA takedown notice a difficult thing to do

At first glance, the cornucopia of options seems overwhelming.  Never mind the fact most links essentially lead to the same starting point.  Ironic that Google reps love to bandy the the word “transparency” about except when it comes to its own takedown process.  Again, those this seems an appropriate location for it, contact info for Google’s designated DMCA Agent, required by law, is not posted. (*See more on that later in post).

An example of what it takes to send takedown notice to report pirated movie hosted on Google Drive

To gain a better understanding of just how unnecessarily convoluted Google makes its DMCA procedure, follow along as I describe the the steps a filmmaker must take in to remove a pirated movie from a Google site.

Carol_movieAs an example I’ll use a stash of pirated films hosted on Google Drive I recently discovered.  More than 200 lesbian films have been uploaded to a private Google Group that boasts 1275 members.  Included among the pirated titles is a copy of the recent release ‘Carol,’ a film still in theaters by the way.  The pirated films organized alphabetically and can be streamed, downloaded or shared to another Google Drive.

To begin the process of removing one of these pirated films one has to find the correct online form to send. As I noted above, to do that you must first find (using Google search)  this “legal troubleshooter page for Google.  Again I ask–why not an easy-to-find link at the bottom of the web page?

From that page one must select “submit legal request.” Next, respond to a series of 7 questions before ending up at the proper form—But wait, Google requires that you have a Google account and login in order to access the form.  Can that really legal?

Is this legal?
Google makes you login in to access online DMCA form. Is this even legal?

Let’s say eventually (once you create a Google account and login) you end up at the right DMCA form, guess what? You’re still not finished.  You’ll need to have the correct URL to report. That seems simple enough…you already copied the URL from the address bar of the pirated stream so that’s the link to report, right?  WRONG!  That would be too easy.

If you did report that URL nothing will happen.  You must READ THE FINE PRINT on the DMCA form silly.  Apparently the  URL that appears in the address bar that appears–when you click a film to watch it in a new window– is NOT really the link to the pirated movie.  It’s actually the URL for the Drive folder and, as the fine print notes, this type of URL is “unacceptable.”

Pirated copy of movie hosted on Google drive
The URL on this pirated copy of Carol is not the URL to use in a DMCA notice

So how to you find the right URL to report?  Google doesn’t offer up any tips on that front.  To find an actual link specific to the pirated  movie requires some further detective work.  Return to the page with the pirated stream and poke around.  There’s nothing that says “here’s the video link” but after clicking various clickable things you may, if you’re lucky, eventually discover that by navigating to menu bar and sliding your cursor over the three dots–an option for more actions appears.

Pirated copy of Carol
Don’t follow your instincts and click “report copyright infringement” or you’ll end up back at the beginning of the DMCA maze

From there if you click  report abuse you’ll arrive at yet another page with a new URL.  You’re asked to click the type of abuse….Warning, if you select report “copyright abuse” then ruh roh, you end up back at the beginning the DMCA maze that Google has so conveniently created to impede and confuse you once again.

Don’t listen to your instincts or think logically…In this case you’d better just copy the URL on the page and head back to the online form you already found….Confused much?  Yeah, me too and that’s exactly how Google likes it.  Another way to find the real link is to click another not-so-intuitive menu icon that let’s you “pop-out” the video.  Basically nothing changes except a new window opens with a new URL (see below).

Google drive copy of pirated movie 'Carol'
Another way to find a hidden URL to a pirated movie it to click on this icon…who knew right? It’s beyond ridiculous.

It’s an absurd maze, but for Google, it’s clearly no accident.  The more confused and frustrated rights holders become, the less likely they’ll actually complete the DMCA process.  Even if you do finally send a takedown notice, it’s often a crapshoot as to whether the content gets removed in a timely fashion.

Google has designed cutting edge online tech, but its DMCA procedures are something out of the Dark Ages.  That’s no accident.

To say Google’s takedown procedures is an obstacle course is an understatement.  Circling back to the beginning, why can’t I just send an email to Google to report the illegal link(s) like I do with Vimeo?  Google’s response would most likely (again) be to pull out the whine machine and prattle on about the massive number of DMCA notices it receives.  So what?  There’s technology that can cope with pirate links report via email.  Kim Dotcom’s site Megaupload was able to, so does Vimeo, so did Hotfile and Rapidshare and….well you get the picture.  It ain’t that hard.

Does Google skirt requirements to qualify for “safe harbor” protection under the DMCA?

Since I began this piece with a mention of the Copyright Office’s ongoing review of 512c, it’s worth focusing in on a particular provision of it.  *The DMCA’s “safe harbor” provision exempts service providers from liability for infringements if certain requirements of the law are met, including publication (on its website) of the name, address, phone number and electronic mail (email)  address of its designated DMCA agent:

(2) Designated agent.—The limitations on liability established in this subsection apply to a service provider only if the service provider has designated an agent to receive notifications of claimed infringement described in paragraph (3), by making available through its service, including on its website in a location accessible to the public, and by providing to the Copyright Office, substantially the following information:

(A) the name, address, phone number, and electronic mail address of the agent.

(B) other contact information which the Register of Copyrights may deem appropriate.

I’m sure Google has a massive team of lawyers at its disposal, but from my lay reading of the law it seems that something is amiss.  If Google has to provide this contact information in order to qualify for “safe harbor” from liability, shouldn’t it follow the law and provide an “electronic mail address” for its designated agent its website right?  Perhaps I’m not reading the law correctly?

Finding pirated movies via Google search is easy.  Finding contact information for Google’s designated DMCA agent isn’t.

Even though, from my lay perspective,  the DMCA  seems to be pretty explicit in requiring that contact information for a service provider’s designated agent contact to be readily available on “its website” Google fails to comply.   Try searching for Google’s designated DMCA agent and you’ll come up empty despite using several variations.  Google algorithms seem primed to offer up stolen goods….but for information pertaining to the DMCA, not so much….

Google doesn't make finding its DMCA agent info easy
Use Google search to find the email address for its designated agent and you’ll come up empty

If you search for Google and DMCA you’ll end up back at the beginning of the DMCA maze,  Google’s “Legal Removal Requests” page.

The law states an email address is required…does that mean its required for anyone BUT Google?  Perhaps its there somewhere, but hidden in a thicket of clicks or maybe Google’s lobbying largess has caused mass blindness.  Maybe folks at the U.S. Copyright Office should look more carefully at Google’s compliance with the letter of the law and not depend on the word of Google’s PR team.

For the record I did manage to find the email for Google’s copyright agent by using the U.S. Copyright Office’s index for designated agents.  Here’s a link to Google’s information and for the record, the official email is dmca-agent@google.com.  Note the caveat that says it’s faster to use the URL above which, by the way, takes you back to the beginning of the takedown maze.  Sorry, but I’ll take my chances with email from now on…..

Google designated DMCA agent info
The easiest way to find Google’s designated agent is via the U.S. Copyright office…not via the pages of Google

 

If we want to talk about updating the law for the 21st century, why not start with enforcing it and demand that Google develop a DMCA takedown system that is efficient, transparent, and follows the requirements of the law.