Google Inadvertently Helps the Web Pirates

Google wants to be transparent... or is it just laughing down at the copyright holders? This question springs to your mind first when you spare a thought on how the search giant dishes itself up by supporting the Chilling Effects project. Is it just one of those odd coincidences or does Google actually foster copyright infringing links?

How Did It Come About?

The reason for the whole story to surface was the record complaint numbers reported by Google for the week before last. According to the company's Transparency Report, the second week of July saw 719,416 URL removal requests, more than ever before, and the figures are still on the rise.

After the exciting news, tech media turned their faces to the website where you can access the details of each and every copyright infringement complaint coming to Google: Chilling Effects. It was after people gave a closer look to the site when the whole absurd surfaced.

What is Chilling Effects?

Chilling Effects has been online since 2001. The project's initial task was to dam up, at least partially, the negative consequences of so-called cease-and-desist letters referring to any Web activities. In practice, the cease-and-desist letters are primarily these DMCA complaints that thousands of copyright holders send to Google requesting to take down copyright-infringing webpages.

For example, you make a snapshot of your friend blowing bubbles out of his nose and post it on Facebook. In a couple of days, you find your photo posted on a commercial website, and you don't remember that its owners have ever got in touch with you. In that case, you should submit your DMCA complaint to Google and the search giant will remove any mentions of the page with the infringing content from its services.

These cease-and-desist letters are in no way bad themselves. They help artists from all over the globe earn their living with their creative works by protecting their copyrights. It doesn't mean that it can't be abused: it is abused by each and every large corporate copyright holder. Instead of preventing the copyright content from being illegally used, they often submit complaints about regular users like you and me allegedly infringing someone's rights in seemingly legit contexts. Under 'seemingly legit contexts' Chilling Effects understands 'express[ing] ... views, parody[ing] politicians, celebrat[ing] ... movie stars, or criticiz[ing] businesses.' In other words, more often than not, large corporations are out to get law-obidient users sharing their opinions with other people, instead of real Web pirates.

Google Paradox

Google has been publishing all cease-and-desist letters it has received since 2002 on Chilling Effects. Here comes the tricky part: Google takes down all the mentions of the links complained about by copyright holders and posts the complaint text afterwards. This text, however, contains the links taken down, and Chilling Effects never stops being indexed by Google. In other words, there still is a small loophole for the infringing link to sneak into the Google search results, namely through the Chilling Effects pages.

The only way to get this link taken down is to submit another complaint to Google, this time about Chilling Effects featuring illicit links. That's where the search company puts on a troll face: it removes the link mentions from its services... and send the report to Chilling Effects! The vicious circle closes.

Long story short, this transparency mechanism makes it impossible to completely eradicate every mention of a copyright-infringing link from Google. So, an experienced user armed with some search input skills can easily find a direct link to any infringing content he or she wants. In practical terms, it means that Google is indirectly supporting online pirates... with the help of the copyright holders themselves! Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the absurd 21st century!

Does Google do it really inadvertently?