Google Begins Making DMCA Takedowns Public
In an apparent response to criticism of its handling of a threatening letter from a Church of Scientology lawyer, the popular search engine Google has begun to make so-called "takedown" letters public. DMCA-censored pages are now two clicks and a cut-and-paste away from the regular search results.
The full text of two new letters to Google, dated April 9 and 10, already appears on the free speech site chillingeffects.org. "I think it's great that they're calling attention to the way the takedown provision can be used to compromise their search results," said Wendy Seltzer, Fellow of Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School and co-founder of chillngeffects.org.
Google is still choosing to take advantage of the Safe Harbor provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which allows web sites to escape liability for copyright infringement if they take pages down in response to properly formed letters.
In a controversial move last month, Google pulled all pages from the anti-Scientology site xenu.net then restored the site's home page amid Internet outcry, just as Linux Journal readers were on their way to visit Google in person to ask for help finding censored pages about the alien warlord Xenu who is a key figure in Scientology's creation legend.
Only the name and telephone number of the attorney who wrote the letters have been removed from the copies on chillingeffects.org. Both of the new letters originate from the Los Angeles law firm of Moxon & Kobrin, where attorney Helena Kobrin has long been Scientology's standard-bearer against church critics on the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology and other online fora. Kobrin was not immediately available for comment
The letters are also linked to directly from Google search results. When results would have included a DMCA-censored page, the results page now includes a link to the takedown letter that resulted in the page being removed. A search this morning for site:xenu.net scientology produced the message:
"In response to a complaint we received under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, we have removed 8 result(s) from this page. If you wish, you may read the DMCA complaint for these removed results."
Failing to act in response to a DMCA takedown letter is not against the law. "They can always choose not to take advantage of the safe harbor," Seltzer said. However, only by complying with the letter and taking pages out of their index can Google escape a possible copyright infringement lawsuit.
Finally, Google has expanded its DMCA page to include instructions for Counter Notification under the DMCA. A webmaster who believes that a non-infringing page is being unfairly censored can write the proper legal incantations and have the page put back into the index.
Google is then required to forward this Counter Notification to the original notifier, and then put the page back in the index "not less than 10 or more than 14" days after Google receives the Counter Notification. If your site is pulled out of Google and you're confused, chillingeffects.org has a web form that will generate a correctly formed Counter Notification.