Adsense and the DMCA

While doing research on an unrelated matter, I made a discovery that Google Adsense carries a separate DMCA page complete with different contact information compared to the main Google DMCA page.

If you read nothing else in this article, remember that this link is the place to go to have Google cut the Adsense account for a splogger, plagiarist or other content thief. Do not go to the regular Adsense TOS violations reporting page (reached by clicking the “Ads by Google” link in an Adsense block).

Still, this situation caught me off guard because, honestly, I wasn’t looking for it. There are several problems and questions that come up from this page. Many of which make me very uneasy.

Some Confusion

The DMCA safe harbor provision (PDF) applies to four kinds of Internet service providers. They can be summarized as being transitory services (such as routers), caching services, Web hosts and search engines (or other information location tools).

Adsense, however, is an advertising network and does not fit neatly into any of these categories. Though the Google search engine falls under the fourth and Blogger into the third, Adsense doesn’t seem to have a neat home in this field of ISPs.

It may very well cache data from its member sites or provide some transitory functions, but the DMCA exempts both of those categories of ISPs from any liability. There is no mention, positive or negative, about advertising services that unwittingly profit from infringing content.

Of course, this is not a green light for Google to just ignore copyright infringement. While I have not been able to find a case where such an advertising network was held liable for infringement by its members, the potential for danger is very clear. That is especially true if an ad network has infringement reported to it but fails to take action.

The question remains though: Why use the DMCA?

A Theory

There are many potential reasons why Google went this route, however, the most likely is that it both decreases risk of liability and increases ease of use.

Since Google already handles a slew of DMCA notices, it is very easy for them to accept Adsense complaints in this format. Also, since most copyright holders are familiar or can easily learn how to use them as well, it’s easy for them as well.

It looks like a win-win and, most likely, it is. It also protects Google against lawsuits in cases where individuals file false notices and lets everyone involved work within a familiar system. Still, it is very unnerving to see the DMCA applied in a technically incorrect way.

Another problem is that Google clearly does not accept electronic DMCA notices for Adsense. The contact information is different and, since no email address is provided, save one for general questions, the previously-mentioned work-around will not suffice. One will be required to mail or fax their notice in.

Still, the information is important to make note of. Since so many sploggers use Adsense to finance their operations, victims who want to report violators to Google and get their ill-gotten gains revoked will need this information to do so.

In that regard, it is an incredibly important link.

Conclusions

On one hand, I see Google’s strange interpretation of the DMCA getting even more strange. On the other, I am very glad that they are serious about dealing with these matters and look forward to being able to use this information soon.

There are far too many sploggers that, when shut down, are able to simply pack up and move on to another site. Hitting sploggers and scrapers in the wallet will, almost certainly, be the only way to bring about real change.

Still, it is unsettling on some level. The DMCA is a controversial-enough law without unintended applications. I have to wonder if Google’s use of it will have any unforeseen side effects.

I am not sure about what a good alternative would be, but I am nervous about the one presented.

tags: Plagiarism, Content+Theft, Copyright+Infringement, DMCA, Copyright+Google, Adsense

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