Has Google Improved Its DMCA Handling?

Recently, Google announced that it was changing its policies to better protect and respect copyright. This included several changes to their existing practices including booting pirate sites out of Adsense, demoting the ranking of such sites in their results and preventing piracy-related terms from appearing in autocomplete.

However, the change that got the most attention in my inbox was the announcement that Google was revamping its DMCA notice procedure to respond more quickly, within 24 hours ideally.

I have been extremely critical of Google over the past few years. I’ve called it “Hopelessly broken“, I gave them a “D” when handing out grades for DMCA compliance in 2007 (behind only Giga Blast) and, even as far back as 2005, was expressing concern about how slow the process was.

Though I’ve given Google some credit for some of their recent changes, most notably their improvements to the process when dealing with Blogger complaints, I’ve mostly been limited to posting information about workarounds for sending DMCA notices to Google and complaining about Google’s shell games with Adsense.

However, as frustrated as I have been in the past with Google, I have to admit that there has been some significant improvement in the past few months. Though I still have some disagreements with them, I have to acknowledge that at least part of the announcement is not without teeth. They really have sped up and improved their DMCA process.

What is more interesting though is this wasn’t a change that happened overnight, but rather, one of gradual improvement that happened over at least several months and almost crept up me.

How Google Improved Its DMCA Process

Though Google hasn’t publicly said how it improved its DMCA resolution process, it’s clear that it wasn’t an overnight success story. Rather, the change has been coming for some time.

I first caught wind of shifts at Google a few months ago, when I advised someone to be patient after sending a notice to Google only to hear that they had received compliance in about a week, well short of the previous two-week time frame that was common.

I dismissed it as a happy fluke but it happened again with another contact who got resolution in about four days. With confirmation that Google was improving its turnaround time on DMCA notices, I began to steer my clients more to using it when appropriate. Since then, I’ve filed or been involved with about half a dozen notices and have seen the response time improve from three days to, with my last notice, getting an initial response in 24 hours, as promised in the announcement.

To be clear though, in every case, this was the response time, not the resolution time. For example, with the latest case, I received a response in 24 hours but it took a few days of back and forth to ensure all infringing content was removed.

Still, it’s hard to deny that this is a drastic improvement. Though I can only speak from my personal experiences and that of those I work with, it appears they’ve gone from a response time measured in weeks to one that can be reasonably measured in hours.

Still Some Issues

As much faster as it is, there are still some lingering issues. Though I haven’t attempted to simply email a DMCA notice the traditional way, Google’s DMCA page has not changed to indicate that they will accept notices without a handwritten signature. This means you still have to use the “Google DMCA Workaround” to email a notice in.

This is also part of why there is such a big difference between response time and completion time still. Namely that Google needed me to respond with a list of the links in clear text, not in the PDF. Since the reply was sent on a Friday, I didn’t get to it until Monday as no one would have been there to respond.

It would be nice if Google would change their search DMCA policy to more closely mirror their Blogger policy, which works through a simple online form.

However, the bigger complaint about the delay seems to be fixed, at least for now and it does seem that, at least in this area, the Google push to improve things is legitimate.

Rethinking Google

Previously, I had been reluctant to encourage people to file notices with Google. Though compliance was usually guaranteed, the delay was so long and the hassle so great, that it was just easier and faster to take other paths. Especially considering how urgent many of the cases I deal with are, waiting two weeks to remove a work from the search index was not practical.

Instead, I reserved DMCA notices with Google for cases where the infringer had popped up repeatedly without filing a counter-notice or where the SEO impact was the sole concern, such as with some scrapers.

However, with these improvements, there may be more cases where filing with Google is a solid move. In fact, with Google responding more quickly than many hosts, it may make sense, at least in some cases, to file DMCA notices with them along with the host.

That being said, I’m still very leery to turn Google into copyright cops of the Web, especially when they can always change their policies later and other methods are better targeted at the infringement. Still, this clearly makes Google a much more practical and powerful tool in these disputes.

Bottom Line

For the most part, I don’t intend to change which cases I refer to Google and which I don’t. I’ve never blindly shot out DMCA notices to Google (or to anyone for that matter) and don’t intend to start. Though there are some cases where I might consider a DMCA notice to Google today where I wouldn’t before, those are few and far between.

While we likely won’t know the results of Google’s other efforts for some time, the fact that their DMCA improvements seem to be generating real results is encouraging. Google does seem to be getting more serious about these issues and I know Ellen Seidler. the author of the PopUp Pirates site, will at least be pleased.

Hopefully these results translate to even better procedures and better results elsewhere.

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