back to article How to nuke websites you don't like: Slam Google with millions of bogus DMCA takedowns

Big corporations are abusing the system for taking down files and links to copyright-infringing content by sending millions of fake links, according to Google. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), online providers are given legal protection from having illegal content on their servers if they respond to requests …

  1. John Savard Silver badge

    Simple Solution

    Amend the DMCA so that if you waste Google's time or computer resources with fake requests, Google doesn't have to listen to you any more, without losing its safe harbor protection.

    Unfortunately, because of the committee system, Americans have to return incumbents to Congress or lose Federal spending in their area, so voters can't exercise effective control of their representatives to make them vote the way they want every time or be thrown out.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Simple Solution

      So the US voters are blocked from directly and immediately forcing their elected representatives to vote a certain way on a specific issue. Fine, let's say they could do so instead. Is that not merely removing the middleman between the voters themselves and the Law itself? Do we want that? Some would disagree.

      And remember that pols that don't more or less do the bidding of the voters will be replaced sooner rather than later. That part of the system is basically intact and doing its intended job.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Simple Solution

        The illusion of democracy created by a large number of elections and processes diluting accountability to the point where you can't remove the problem anyway.

        Like electing dictators...

        </RANT>

      2. WatAWorld

        Re: Simple Solution

        @Big John

        "So the US voters are blocked from directly and immediately forcing their elected representatives to vote a certain way on a specific issue. Fine, let's say they could do so instead."

        No that is not what removing the current corrupt system for selecting committee members in congress based on seniority would do.

        People run for congress on many issues. You do not elect multiple congress people, one per issue. You vote for one candidate and he or she decides which way to vote on when it comes up.

        That is how democracy works in most countries. You vote for the candidate who most goes along with your wishes.

        What you're stuck with in the USA is voting for a candidate who doesn't give a damn about you and your wishes because that candidate has years of seniority that guarantee him a seat on a committee from which he can do pork barrelling. Pork barrelling is getting funds unjustly sent back to his district or state, often as kickbacks in exchange for campaign contributions.

        What doing away with the corrupt system for selecting committee members in congress would do is give all congress people a chance at getting on a committee.

        It would restore democracy and allow voters to vote the best person into office rather than the person with the longest incumbency.

      3. thomn8r

        Re: Simple Solution

        And remember that pols that don't more or less do the bidding of the voters will be replaced sooner rather than later. That part of the system is basically intact and doing its intended job.

        s/voters/donors/gi

    2. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
      Go

      Re: Simple Solution

      Google could probably dynamically throttle the requests from specific requestors based on the valid hit rate claiming that doing so simply prioritizes requests from folks with valid requests. Make the number of requests per hour accepted from a specific requestor be inversely proportional to the valid hit percentage of the prior hour or day. Adjust accordingly for folks gaming the system.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Simple Solution

        how about BILLING the bogus complainant instead? The cost of making a bogus request is that you are *BILLED* for it, and no additional requests will be accepted until you PAY UP!

        And don't forget an EULA to "agree to those terms" before the requests are sent.

        1. Magani
          Happy

          Re: Simple Solution

          I'd say $1 per incorrect/invalid complaint should put a stop to this stupidity. Should work well in a country used to malicious litigation.

          1. 2460 Something

            Re: Simple Solution

            Not just a charge per invalid request, but also drop the rankings of the request owners domains at the same rate it would have affected the website in question...

            1. lglethal Silver badge
              Go

              Re: Simple Solution

              Easier Solution - just require a Captcha to file each individual request.

              Try sending a million requests when you have to fill in a million Captcha's!

              And if the firms still want to do that, well at least it should help the unemployment figures... :P

            2. Named coward

              Re: Simple Solution

              @2460 Something

              "Not just a charge per invalid request, but also drop the rankings of the request owners domains at the same rate it would have affected the website in question..."

              Then you will get people spoofing their identity and making fake requests to drop someone else's rating... Rating and DMCA requests should simply not be related

          2. kain preacher Silver badge

            Re: Simple Solution

            IF you can prove that the claims were false an intentionally false claims were made the fine is high a $1000 per infraction.

            1. gnasher729 Silver badge

              Re: Simple Solution

              Right now the sender must state that they are the copyright holder or an agent of the copyright holder of some work, and lying / being wrong on that part is actually a criminal offence. The sender does not need to be right that the work on the website is actually the same that they hold the copyright for; an obvious example would be two songs with the exact same title.

              But I would absolutely agree that if they send a takedown notice for a work that just isn't there and never has been there, then they should have to pay for the work they caused. In the end, DMCA allows you to send a "take down" notice. Sending a "take down" notice when there is nothing to take down is clearly an abuse of the DMCA.

        2. WatAWorld

          Re: Simple Solution

          Both billing and throttling probably require a change to the regulations before an ISP or search company could legally do it.

          I think billing is a good solution, but probably $1 is not enough. Make it $10 or $25.

          The DMCA regulations should be changed to allow a $25 fee for filing a takedown request.

        3. cream wobbly

          Re: Simple Solution

          Good, but a better way would be to say if you submit a takedown request for a URL that doesn't exist in the index, you will be charged $1000 for the first spurious claim, doubling for each subsequent spurious claim.

    3. Bucky 2

      Re: Simple Solution

      Americans have to return incumbents to Congress or lose Federal spending in their area

      It would be nice to be able to believe that there's some kind of rationality in how Americans vote. Even this kind of craven, self-absorbed, "well, I'll burn the rest of the country down if it will get my potholes fixed" logic.

      People vote for names they recognize. If they recognize more than one, they don't vote based on a considered evaluation of their positions, they vote for the person they hate less (to be contrasted with the person they like more).

      Consequently, we have the government we deserve. It's a shitty, thoughtless, mean-spirited leadership. And we have it because those are the criteria we use to make decisions.

    4. steward
      Pirate

      Re: Simple Solution

      Even better... since content providers have such an inflated estimate of value lost by infringement, turn it around. Amend the DMCA so that if a fake notice is sent out, the generator of the fake notice is liable for $10,000 in money damages to the recipient of the notice, plus legal fees, if any.

      I predict a drop of 99% + of DMCA notices if that were to happen.

  2. Steve Evans

    Rate limit it...

    Sounds like a job for a ramping up rate limit...

    Based on the number of non existent submissions over the previous 24 hours, add a slight delay to the process.

    They could make it require an API key. 10 an hour is not throttled and is free, above that start charging, because I'm sure the "lawyers" will be charging their client for submitting x thousand DMCA requests even if 99.9% are complete crap.

  3. streaky Silver badge

    One of my sites..

    .. has this problem. Most of them are bullshit, nobody ever checks them - and they're not worth countering. Most of the DMCA's I get directly that would seem to come from a human source are for pages that don't even exist or haven't done in a long time. These guys are going to be responsible for the death of search engines (by uselessness) and Google for some reason don't care.

    1. Kiwi Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: One of my sites..

      These guys are going to be responsible for the death of search engines (by uselessness)

      I wonder if that's how sites like "softonic" have managed to gain so highly in Google's rankings, despite the number of "demote" rules they break. Or those search-results aggregators that are pages containing about 80% ads and if you're lucky 20% pointing to forums containing what you were looking for - only with an adwall or paywall or something. They rank higher than the original forum pages (something else off with G's algorithms, as pages that are linked to a lot should rank quite high), and often you will see G results filled with what at a glance appear to be several different pages but turn out to all be copies of the same page with different domains. Another something G's algorithms are supposed to punish, yet the crap floats to the top and buries the real results on page 5 or worse (at least back when I was looking for stuff like that, may have changed since I no longer look for Windows issues and very seldom look for Linux issues)

      and Google for some reason don't care.

      Maybe because they know they've passed that point, and every person who discover's there's another option out there (other than Bing, which I think is actually a Google construct that G points to and says "See, we aren't that bad!") is a customer lost forever to them.

  4. P. Lee Silver badge

    Easy and established procedure

    Punish vexatious legal action.

    And perhaps do the proper thing, which would be to force the DMCA notices to go to the website providing the content, not a search engine.

  5. Paul

    I think spammers work on a 0.0001% response rate or lower!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Spam works even with a 0.0% response rate. Even if it's a total loss for the spammers customer, they'll be another sucker along shortly.

  6. Kapudan-i Derya

    Hey Google

    How about downgrading response priority for those companies who'll abuse the system?

    1. WatAWorld

      Re: Hey Google

      Downgrading search ranking for an intellectual property law firm?

      Intellectual property law firms probably would not care.

  7. Demosthenese

    Verify a human has sent the request

    Only allow urls to be sent one at a time, and each requires an annoying captcha-type hoop to jump through.

  8. MNGrrrl
    Devil

    Not accidental

    This was always the plan.

    Anyone who thinks differently hasn't been paying attention. The DMCA is not about copyright -- it's about corporations being able to lock out competitors. To some extent, private citizens have been caught in the crossfire, but "the pirate bay" or similar was never the target. It's always been about gaining monopoly power; When you control the treasury, you have the power. It doesn't matter whether you're a President or a CEO. And ultimately, that's what the DMCA gives: A means of power.

    1. Arctic fox

      Re: Not accidental

      Indeed. However it is rather "special" that we have lawyers launching what are in practice analogues of DDoS attacks.

      1. alain williams Silver badge

        Re: Not accidental

        Maybe make a complaint about the lawyers doing a DDOS. I suspect that if we thought hard enough about it we could find a way of making them guilty under a computer misuse act or similar.

        1. Another User
          Joke

          Using lawyers against lawyers?

          Pure unadulterated brilliance

      2. Roland6 Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Not accidental

        lawyers launching what are in practice analogues of DDoS attacks.

        For it to be analogous to a DDoS, the same (or similar) lists of takedown demands need to have been sent from many different sources, not simply contained in a single takedown demand.

        Perhaps I should set up a botnet and sell it's "DCMA takedown" service to IP lawyers... But then if the IP lawyers spoke to their colleagues dealing with clients in serious organised crime, I'm sure they could obtain some rather useful contacts...

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Not accidental

          "For it to be analogous to a DDoS, the same (or similar) lists of takedown demands need to have been sent from many different sources, not simply contained in a single takedown demand."

          Yeah, DDoS gets so much press, you'd almost think people had forgotten that DDoS was a "new" technology piggybacking on the original DoS attacks, ie large amounts of data from a single source. I think millions of take down DMCA notices from the same source on a daily basis (and multiple sources using similar tactics) is at the least, a DoS attack. Even with automated systems, Google must be feeling a measurable financial hit from each of these sources.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not accidental

      "When you control the treasury, you have the power. "

      The Golden Rule: He who has the gold makes the rules.

      1. Wade Burchette

        Re: Not accidental

        "The Golden Rule: He who has the gold makes the rules."

        A politician's job is to get elected or re-elected; our wants and needs are a distant third. It takes money, lots of money, to get re-elected. The last US presidential campaign was over $1 billion. So with so much money required to get a politician elected, you just know they are going to listen to their corporate overlords. These businesses aren't bribing ... er, excuse me "lobbying" politicians because they believe in them. These businesses want something favorable for their large "donation".

        The DMCA is a blight on humanity. It should be repealed immediately. But it won't. The RIAA and MPAA has more money than we do.

        1. GranvilleA

          Re: Not accidental

          And fortunately for Democracy the person who spent closer to $2 Billion lost.

    3. Nolveys Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: Not accidental

      (The DMCA has) always been about gaining monopoly power.

      Well said. So many suggestions above that the DMCA should be amended to reduce it's ability to fuck people over. It's like saying "Ah geez, this VX nerve gas sure does kill people a lot. We should modify it to make it less effective."

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The answer in a capitalist system is to make them pay per takedown.

    Charge them a refundable administration fee that they get back only if they actually hit something they can prove they are being contracted to protect and have the legal right to remove.

    Restrict takedowns to only one protection agent per copywriten item and require that said item is availible for comparision by google so they can confirm it is not bogus. In the event of abuse then their fee increases upto a point where it is clear they are abusing the system whereupon the company and the lawyer are marked as abusers and no longer elidgible to make requests. Along with a notice to their bar council to take required action against the lawyer and his employer or face a blanket ban on all lawyers they certify

    So fee needs to cover the cost for google to process the takedown request, plus any charges required in confirming their validity to make the reqest. That would be reasonable and would I suggest reduce the amount of bogus requests as well as to make the requesters careful before maliceously wasting Google's time.

    The lawyers are after all being paid to spam google, so google should get a piece of the cake too

  10. Jedit

    There may be an easier way...

    Just install El Reg's sidebar ad handler. The story page hung for over a minute due to a "long-running script", and while typing this the text box pauses before updating and sometimes ignores keystrokes while a new ad is loading.

    (Yes, it's IE, but don't blame me - I'm on my break at work.)

    1. Stevie Silver badge

      Re: There may be an easier way...

      Trudat.

      Repeatedly crashed my safari browser on my iPad and locked up my Raspberry Pi for ages on every page load.

      Analytics or adverts uckfup?

      (And yes I know there's an app but it is manifestly not fit for purpose, unconfigurable for handedness, infected with screaming flasho-banners and just all-round annoying. I deleted it months ago after finding no route to get feedback to the "coders" responsible for it.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Isn't that illegal?

    From a sample take down notice:

    "Under penalty of perjury I certify that the information contained in the notification is both true and accurate, and I have the authority to act on behalf of the owner of the copyright(s) involved."

    1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Isn't that illegal?

      It would be delicious if Google et al launched a court case for every false take down request received.

      I imagine that could be easily automated. Not only would those sending out false take downs get a taste of their own medicine; once the court system is overwhelmed by legitimate claims someone might sit up, take notice, and change things.

      1. Cuddles Silver badge

        Re: Isn't that illegal?

        "It would be delicious if Google et al launched a court case for every false take down request received."

        It would, yes. But ask yourself this - why haven't they done so? Answer - because they have absolutely no incentive to do so. This isn't a competitor causing them problems, it's a very minor inconvenience from an essentially irrelevant source. Google's checking and removal of links will be just as automated as the takedown requests so it costs them virtually nothing, and the companies involved are at best not competing and may even be partners with Google (publishers have deals with Youtube) so they have no other reasons to screw with them.

        It's essentially the same problem all spam, junk mail, nuisance calls, and so on have. Even though they can grow to the point that they cause significant problems on a societal level (according to various reports, spam could make up something like 85% of all emails and costs tens of billions per year in lost productivity and similar), no individual is harmed anywhere near enough to actually do anything about it.

      2. WatAWorld

        Re: Isn't that illegal?

        It is libel, so a civil matter.

        And if it gets a company's search rankings reduced, that is damages.

        So it could be solved by tort law and law suits against the IP lawyers spamming out the takedown notices, IF google were to let the victims know they're being targeted and being damaged.

        A $25 fee per DMCA takedown request is probably an easier solution.

    2. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Re: Isn't that illegal?

      "Under penalty of perjury I certify that the information contained in the notification is both true and accurate, and I have the authority to act on behalf of the owner of the copyright(s) involved."

      That only applies to the work that you think is infringed. If Madonna thinks that _her_ song is on your website, then she has to identify _her_ song. If she claims copyright on a song that isn't hers, that's illegal. But if the song on your website isn't hers, that's legally fine. Mistakes happen. But what happens her, sending a takedown notice for something that doesn't even exist, that should be made illegal.

  12. Sixtysix
    Pint

    Sounds like SPAM to me...

    ...I know what to do with SPAM: Domain reject.

  13. SPiT

    Could Google discourage them

    This simplest way for Google to discourage this behaviour is to implement (and tell everyone) that it downranks pages for each valid DMCA notice but upranks the page for each false DMCA claim. This of course doesn't work because websites would immediately start "false DMCA" attacks on themselves. But is there some page ranking algorithm, based on information available to Google, that could actually deal with this situation.

    For example, Google could advise specific vexatious DMCA sources that they have been classed as vexatious and in future their false DMCA claims may result in page rank upgrades for the targeted site. This would turn into a game of cat and mouse between Google and these people but would give them a serious problem in having to expend a great deal more human effort in managing their DMCA attacks whilst Google's processes could be broadly automated.

  14. rtb61

    Make a false DMCA claim, spend some time in the slammer for fraudulent misrepresentation. Why were false claims left out of DMCA regulations, corruption, straight up corruption.

  15. Colin McKinnon

    Sympathy for the devil

    When I first published "LAMP Performance end-to-end" the top hits for searches in Google (ranked above Amazon, Google play, Smashwords and other places where this is legitimately for sale) were for book club scams offering "free access" - the sites pop up like wack-a-moles.

    (From what I've been able to determine there are 2 entities which are behind the majority of these, but setting up a website anonymously and artificially boosting the search rankings is very easy)

    In recent months such have declined in the rankings - probably as a result of these bulk takedown notices. It might be a blunt instrument but as a result, content owners benefit and so do consumers. The only people being inconvenienced here are Google and the scammers.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Sympathy for the devil

      @Colin McKinnon- Are you saying you (or your agents) have also sent out scattergun boilerplated takedown requests of the sort described in the article?

  16. WatAWorld

    Isn't making false accusations libel ?

    And isn't hurting a company's search ranking damages?

    Google just needs to publish who is claiming what about whom and let the targets seek damages from the attacking lawyers.

    They could also seek their disbarment.

    Or the law could be changed so that filing a DMCA takedown notice requires a $25 filing fee.

  17. Joseph Harris 1

    There are two types of problem site. Pirates, who are a bigger problem than admitted, and phishing sites. Phishing sites often imitate pirates and appear to hold every book, film, music item published "for free" or by small payment, but actually hold no items at all, aiming either to download malware or obtain financial details.

    Ironically, MUSO, the one company The Register mentions, is a valid piracy spotter on behalf of thousands of self-publishers and small publishers. That there are always people gaming whatever system you set up is a feature of our modern world.

    And small users of DMCA notices will tell you that, for them, sending DMCAs is a PITA. Proper policing of problem sites would be a far better and less wasteful way to go.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Proper policing of problem sites?

      So in other words, the media companies get to decide directly who is allowed to be on Google's search results?

      Who decides which sites are a "problem"? as shown in this article the people already charged with policing are abusing their position of trust, what will they do when they have even more power to censor what they do not like even when it lies outside of their jurisdiction.

      The real answer is to reduce their charges for their products to a level where no one can afford to compete. As with any premium/luxury product, if your price is stupidly higher than the cost for someone else to copy it then you create a black market. the media companies created the market for people to copy their products themselves, if they made their product so cheap and availible then there would be no benefit to competing with them.

      Add in that the revenues for the pirates come mostly from advertising and you should be able to appreciate that they are doing to themselves.

      So wholistic solutions are:-

      Make advertising agents and the companies they represent responsible for where their adverts are shown - remove funding for pirate sites.

      Remove the luxury/premium aspect of media, make it so cheap and availible that no one can compete by selling direct to the consumer

      Reduce costs by stopping the legal efforts that have shown themselves to be completely pointless, media companies have created yet another set of hangers on by their approach

      The price for movies/music/books is stupidly inflated so that hoards of hangers on can continue getting money for nothing. if you cut them out of the loop you get a market you actually control without the incentive for anyone else to compete other than on quality. The cost of prodcution is always going to be based upon returns, if you collect less then the cost of production goes down. No more actors charging millions to appear in your movie just because they know you are paying the real freeloaders that amount anyway. Think back to the early days of movies, actors and other production staff were cheap as chips but when a production sells for millions they of course what a fair share.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    People are getting stupider...

    Those writing the rules can't see even one move ahead?

    Alternate Fact: it's working exactly as they intended it to work.

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