The DMCA on 7 Search Engines

For the next chapter of the “DMCA Seven” series, we take a look at the port of last resort for many copyright infringement cases, search engines.

Ideally, one would only send a DMCA to a search engine after other steps, such as cease and desist letters and DMCAs to Web hosts, have failed. However, since much of the plagiarism and scraping going on today is aimed at getting better search rankings, it is important to look at the various search engines and see how they are enforcing the law.

After all, the DMCA has an entire section dedicated to search engines and other “information location tools” (Section 512(d)) and their central role on the Web means that, if a plagiarist is bumped from the search engines, it is almost as if the site doesn’t exist at all.

While search engines aren’t a perfect solution, it is a better answer than none at all and, in many cases, is all that can be done.

So how do the search engines apply the DMCA? Let’s find out.


Format: Email
Email Address: amac at google dot com
Location of Policy: Google’s DMCA Policy
Registered with USCO: Yes
Comments: If it seems as if we’ve been down this road before, it is because we have. We’ve reviewed Google’s DMCA policy both when dealing with blog hosts and social networks. The same complaints still stand. Google’s policy is obstructionist, likely in violation of established laws, such as the ESIGN act, and makes it difficult for small Webmasters to file notices. With over 50% of the search engine market, this makes Google an important, but dangerous, ally in this fight. No other host or search engine requires a handwritten signature but Google doesn’t seem to be letting up. Still, as stated before, with that one snafu aside, Google’s policy is complete and I do wholeheartedly approve of their sending DMCA notices to Chilling Effects. However, in addition to their signature requirement, they work hard to bury their DMCA policy. Finding the policy on their home page requires you to first cllick “About Google” and then visit their “Terms of Service” page and then locate it under item sixteen. Google clearly does not want people notifying them of copyright issues and it shows in every aspect of their policy.
Grade: D


Format: Email
Email Address: copyright at yahoo-inc dot com
Location of Policy: Yahoo’s Copyright and IP Policy
Registered with USCO: Yes
Comments: Though some may think of Yahoo! as a second place search engine, it comes out on top of the heap when it comes to respecting rights holders. Yahoo!’s DMCA policy is well-written, linked directly from the footer of most pages on the site, including the home page, and is backed by a friendly, responsive staff. Yahoo! has always been a good ally and looking at their DMCA procedures versus Google’s is a matter of night and day. I can not say enough good things about Yahoo!.
Grade: B


Format: Email
Email Address: jkweston at microsoft dot com
Location of Policy: Microsoft’s Copyright Policy
Registered with USCO: Yes
Comments: If Yahoo at the top and Google is at the bottom, MSN falls somewhere in between. Their policy is easier to locate from their search page than from their blog service home page. It requires a trip to the “Legal” page in the footer but, once again, the link is not clickable. Rather, you have to copy and paste it into your address bar. While not a major obstacle, it is still very annoying and it seems to prevent the policy from being indexed in other search engines. The policy itself is complete though I’ve had trouble with MSN responding to copyright complaints in the past. Overall, their policy is enough to get by, but they seem to go out of their way to make this policy hard to find and difficult to use. Despite that, it doesn’t seem to raise any serious legal issues, it’s just plain sneaky.
Grade: C-


Format: Email
Email Address: copyright at ask dot com
Location of Policy: Copyright & Trademark Notices | Copyright Claims
Registered with USCO: Yes
Comments: Ask claims to have “The Algorithm”, which is good because you practically need it to find their DMCA policy. Though the shell game Ask plays with its DMCA policy isn’t nearly as bad as Microsoft’s, it’s still a struggle locating their actual copyright policy. To find their policy, you have to first visit their home page, click the “About” page and then click on “Site Policies“. Oddly enough, their contact us link has no mention of their DMCA agent and is a dead end when searching for their policy. However, the policy itself is solid. It’s a robust policy with a good description on how to file a notice and no other obstructions to filing with them. Their information is up to date with the USCO and everything seems to be in order. I just wish I didn’t have so much trouble finding what I was looking for.
Grade: C


Format: None
Email Address: None
Location of Policy: None
Registered with USCO: No
Comments: Gigablast claims to have “one of the largest and freshest indexes in the world” it doesn’t have anything when it comes to the DMCA, copyright or even privacy. This site not only completely lacks a copyright policy, but there are no obvious opt out tools and no other policies or information. The contact information gives you access to press contacts, customer support and marketing but nothing about abuse. It is a great thing that this site isn’t bigger than it is, otherwise, it could be a real nightmare for Webmasters looking to get their content out of its index, especially if they can’t edit robots.txt files or meta tags. In their defense, they seem to be a one-person operation, however, it seems foolish to ignore laws that were written, in part, to protect search engines.
Grade: F


Format: Email
Email Address: copyright at mahalo dot com
Location of Policy: Terms of Service
Registered with USCO: No
Comments: Mahalo is a human-powered search engines that relies on editors to build the actual results page. This means that it is less likely than with other search engines that plagiarized or otherwise infringing content will seep into the results, making it less of a worry in this area. Furthermore, they’ve taken some great steps to prevent the problem from happening in the first place. However, their policy is difficult to find, from their home page, you first have to go to another page on their site to find the terms of service link. Though virtually any page will do as the home page is the only one without that footer, it is a strange and somewhat backwards approach. The policy itself, though buried in the TOS, is reasonably complete and covers all of the needed bases. One strange thing is that it doesn’t mention banning repeat infringers, which is a possibility with their site since it is human powered. Also, the site has not registered with the USCO and that, combined with other missing elements, may raise legal issues. Though it kills me to give this site a bad grade due to their work and preventing abuse in the first place, the issues with the policy itself can not be ignored.
Update: Mahalo responded in the comments breaking something of a comment-speed record on this site. They’ve prepared the USO registration and are looking into dealing with the repeat infringers issue. So, I’m taking them at their word, since they have proved to be honest in this area, and changing the grade from a D+ to a C+.
Grade: C+


Format: Form/Email
Email Address: aolcopyright at aol dot com
Location of Policy: AOL’s Copyright Infringement Policy
Registered with USCO: No (Registered as AOL)
Comments: This might make your head spin. Dmoz is owned and operated by AOL/Netscape. AOL, however, gets their search results from Google, meaning that dmoz is, in a strange way, AOL’s only search engine. Dmoz itself has a special place with the other search engines and, because of that, sites that are listed in the directory tend to do well in the other indexes. This makes dmoz’s role in the search engine market especially important, even if very few humans look through its directory. However, finding’ dmoz’s DMCA policy is tricky, you first have to visit the “About” page and then visit their terms of use. From there, you will be taken to AOL’s DMCA policy, which has been reviewed here before. The policy itself is still sound but the hoops one has to jump through to find it makes me less excited about it here than on AOL itself. Still, the easy-to-use form is a great asset, though it would be nice if they also included an email address, and it does show a great deal of commitment from AOL to help smaller Webmasters get things right. Still, on dmoz, I feel as if the policy could both easier to find and more clear since there is no warning about the jump to AOL’s site. Frankly, the whole thing seems thrown together in this aspect.
Grade: B-


Looking over these scores and comments, what becomes clear is simple, search engines hate receiving DMCA notices.

Nearly every site played some kind of shell game with their DMCA policy, with Yahoo being the exception, and many threw up additional barriers to making the DMCA work. Whether it was Google’s requirement of a written signature, Microsoft’s non-working link or Ask’s game of redirection, finding and using the DMCA on these sites is a terrible pain.

With three sites scoring a D or below and only two Bs, I can safely say that I expected much more out of the search engines. The law targeted them directly and they’ve responded by dragging their feet as much as possible.

While I am not fond of turning the search engines into the copyright police, their prominent role in the Web makes them important allies in this fight. Sadly, none of them but Yahoo seem to be willing to step into the light.

In fact, they all seem to sneak back into the shadows as far as they can legally go.

What the Ratings Mean

A – A complete policy that goes well above and beyond what is required. Often shows real innovation.
B – A solid policy that is well-thought out and is very complete. Shows consideration for submitters and users.
C – An average policy, follows the law to the letter but doesn’t go out of its way to help those submitting a notice or its users.
D – A policy that, while mostly complete, still raises severe ethical and/or legal questions.
F – An incomplete policy that fails to follow the DMCA or local laws in a severe way.

Pluses or minuses are used to indicate how the where a host fits in relationship to other hosts in that that tier.

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