The U.S. DMCA notice-and-takedown system has generated heated debate for many years with supporters arguing that the safe harbour is essential, while rights holder critics countering that the growing number of takedown notices sent to Google illustrates mounting piracy concerns. In recent months, there have been several reports that raise questions about the reliability of takedown notices. A study released last year by the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University found that approximately 30% of notices were questionable, while TorrentFreak report this week identified tens of millions of fake DMCA takedown notices sent to Google on a website with virtually no traffic. An earlier report also raised questions about dubious takedown practices.
Yet those reports pale in comparison to data just released by Google in its submission to the Register of Copyrights as part of the review of the DMCA notice-and-takedown system. Google reports that the overwhelming majority of takedown notices sent to Google Search through its Trusted Copyright Removal Program do not involve pages that are actually in its search index. The submission states:
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The third part of my critique of The Shattered Mirror: News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age, the Public Policy Forum’s report on the future of media, has taken longer than anticipated. In the interim, there have been some excellent posts on the report, including those from Andrew Potter, Dwayne Winseck, and Marc Edge. The first two parts of my review focused on the copyright and CBC/open licensing recommendations. This post discusses the report’s most significant financial recommendation: reforms to the Income Tax Act that would be designed to increase or capture digital advertising costs with Google and Facebook accompanied by a scheme to create a fund to support Canadian media. The recommendation is similar – though not identical – to one floated by communications law veterans Peter Miller and David Keeble in a report commissioned by the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting (FCB).
At the heart of both reports is the recommendation that advertising purchased on foreign Internet-based media should not be tax deductible. The reports offer a tempting vision for those seeking a simple solution to the struggles of Canadian media organizations. Both posit that much of the problem lies largely with the dominance of Google and Facebook in the digital advertising market. According to the FCB report:
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The European Union shook up the privacy world in 2014 with the creation of “the right to be forgotten“, creating a system that allows people to seek the removal of search results from Google that are “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant.” The system does not result in the removal of the actual content, but rather makes it more difficult to find in light of the near-universal reliance on search engines to locate information online.
Since the European decision, Google has received nearly 700,000 requests for the removal of links from its search database resulting in the evaluation of 1.8 million URLs. Moreover, privacy authorities in Europe – led by France’s national regulator – have adopted an aggressive approach on the right to be forgotten, ruling that the link removal should be applied on a global basis.
My Globe and Mail op-ed notes that while the Canadian courts have grappled with the question of removing links from the Google search database (a key case on the issue is awaiting a decision from the Supreme Court of Canada), there has been little sense that Canada would establish its own right to be forgotten. That may have changed last week as the Federal Court of Canada issued a landmark ruling that paves the way for a Canadian version of the right to be forgotten that would allow courts to issue orders with the removal of Google search results on a global basis very much in mind.
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Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments in a case that strikes at the heart of law in the online world. Google v. Equustek Solutions stems from claims by Equustek, a Canadian company, that another company used its trade secrets to create a competing product and engaged in misleading tactics to trick users into purchasing it.
After struggling to get the offending company’s website taken offline, Equustek obtained a British Columbia court order requiring Google to remove the site from its search index. Google voluntarily removed search results for the site from Google.ca search results, but was unwilling to block the sites from its worldwide index. The B.C. court affirmed that the order applied on an international basis, however, issuing what amounted to global takedown order.
The Supreme Court hearing, which attracted intervenors such as the Wikimedia Foundation, Electronic Frontier Foundation, as well as the music and movie industry associations, focused on issues such as the effectiveness of a Google-targeted order, where the responsibility for identifying conflicting laws should lie, and the fairness of bringing an innocent third-party such as Google into the legal fray.
My Globe and Mail opinion piece notes that largely missing from the discussion was an attempt to grapple with perhaps the biggest question raised by the case: In a seemingly borderless Internet, how do courts foster respect for legal rules and avoid vesting enormous power in the hands of Internet intermediaries who may ultimately find themselves picking and choosing among competing laws.
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The Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments in Google v. Equustek Solutions, a hugely important Internet case with implications for Internet jurisdiction and free speech online. I wrote about the lower court and appellate court decisions and I have a forthcoming piece in the Communications of the ACM on the case. I attended yesterday’s hearing and live tweeted some of the main exchanges between counsel and the court. As my final tweet of the hearing indicated, I have no idea where the court is heading in this case. A storified version of my hearing tweets is posted below.
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