Microsoft tops Google Search takedown list

In the last month alone, Google received requests to remove more than 500,000 links to copied Microsoft software from its search results

'Pirated' Microsoft software was behind almost half the search links Google removed on copyright grounds in April, new data has shown.

Of a total of 1.2 million infringing URLs that Google was asked to delink from its search results, more than 500,000 were Microsoft-related. The figures were revealed on Thursday, when Google added copyright requests to its Transparency Report for the first time.

Google transparency report 2012 May

Requests to Google to remove URLs have risen over the last year. Credit: Google

The report is intended to give an indication of all the takedown requests Google gets for its various services. With copyright, however, it is showing only search-related requests for now.

"We're starting with search because we remove more results in response to copyright removal notices than for any other reason," Google senior copyright counsel Fred von Lohmann said in a blog post.

"As you can see from the report, the number of requests has been increasing rapidly," he added. "These days it's not unusual for us to receive more than 250,000 requests each week, which is more than what copyright owners asked us to remove in all of 2009."

Google does not give a total for the number of links actually taken down, just the number of requests. However, it has said that in the last six months of 2011, it complied with 97 percent of all search results specified by applicants.

The highest number of requests might be expected to be related to unlawfully copied music or video. However, the UK music industry group BPI came a distant second to Microsoft, with only 162,601 targeted URLs to the software maker's 543,378.

Cases where NBCUniversal was the copyright holder came next, with 145,934 URLs, followed by porn company Elegant Angel with 39,990 and US music industry group RIAA with 33,462.

Each request can list multiple URLs, and Google noted that the weekly medians for Microsoft-related takedowns were 167 requests and 48,693 URLs.

Microsoft does not tend to make the takedown requests itself. The bulk came from a firm called Marketly, which describes itself as an "online market analysis" company. Other reporting organisations that sent requests to Google over Microsoft-copyrighted software included DtecNet and LeakID, both of which are explicitly geared towards fighting 'piracy'.

Requests for Microsoft-related link takedowns constituted almost half of all those received by Google in the last month. The total number of targeted URLs was around 1.2 million, von Lohmann wrote.

"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," von Lohmann said. "We're… processing these requests faster than ever before; last week our average turnaround time was less than 11 hours."

Staying up

However, von Lohmann also pointed out that some takedown requests are "erroneous or abusive", so Google tries to catch and reject such claims.

"For example, we recently rejected two requests from an organisation 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 noted. "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 unfavourable to a particular person or company from our search results," von Lohmann added.

Google declined to add further comment on the type of Microsoft software involved in the copyright removal requests. The software maker also did not give details of the software products involved, but described its efforts as a means of safeguarding consumers.

"As a search engine and copyright owner, Microsoft appreciates the need for responsible enforcement online," a Microsoft spokesperson told ZDNet UK. "So each month, Microsoft requests the removal of links to web pages that infringe Microsoft's copyrights so that customers are not deceived into purchasing or downloading counterfeit software."

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