The internet giant said it has experienced a 'rapid' increase in the number of takedown requests and added that it is "not unusual" for it to receive requests to remove more than 250,000 individual web address links from its search rankings in a week. That number, it said, is "more than what copyright owners asked us to remove in all of 2009."
"In the past month alone, we received about 1.2 million requests made on behalf of more than 1,000 copyright owners to remove search results," Fred von Lohmann, senior copyright counsel at Google, said in a blog. "These requests targeted some 24,000 different websites."
Von Lohmann made the comments as he announced that Google is to start disclosing the number of requests it receives from rights holders asking it to remove links to allegedly infringing material that appears in its search index.
Google's updated 'Transparency Report' said that Microsoft is responsible for issuing the largest number of takedown requests from a single organisation. It asked for 543,378 individual links to be removed from Google's search results in the past month and nearly two million in the past year. The British Recorded Music Industry (BPI), which represents many major recording companies, made 190,621 last month and 923,880 in total over the past year.
Google admitted that it does receive bogus takedown requests but said it had removed 97% of links identified as infringing in rights holder requests between July and December last year. The company said that the 'notice and takedown' procedures that it conforms to provide the best mechanism for tackling online piracy.
"Fighting online piracy is very important, and we don’t want our search results to direct people to materials that violate copyright laws. So we’ve always responded to copyright removal requests that meet the standards set out in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)," von Lohmann said. "We believe that the time-tested 'notice-and-takedown' process for copyright strikes the right balance between the needs of copyright owners, the interests of users, and our efforts to provide a useful Google Search experience."
Under existing US copyright laws set out in the DMCA, online service providers are not liable for users' copyright-infringing behaviour as long as they are ignorant of it. They are responsible once they have been told about infringement, though, and must remove or disable access to the content providing the 'notice and takedown' request conforms to certain standards.
Von Lohmann said that Google tries to make the notice and takedown process as quick and efficient as possible and had last week been able to process requests on average within 11 hours. However, he said the company also attempts to "catch erroneous or abusive removal requests."
"We recently rejected two requests from an organization representing a major entertainment company, asking us to remove a search result that linked to a major newspaper’s review of a TV show," he said. "The requests mistakenly claimed copyright violations of the show, even though there was no infringing content."
"We’ve also seen baseless copyright removal requests being used for anticompetitive purposes, or to remove content unfavorable to a particular person or company from our search results. We try to catch these ourselves, but we also notify webmasters in our Webmaster Tools when pages on their website have been targeted by a copyright removal request, so that they can submit a counter-notice if they believe the removal request was inaccurate."
Von Lohmann added that he believes publishing the copyright takedown request data will allow stakeholders in the industry to "see and understand how removal requests from both governments and private parties affect our results in Search."
"As policymakers and Internet users around the world consider the pros and cons of different proposals to address the problem of online copyright infringement, we hope this data will contribute to the discussion," he said.