Fake 'U.S. Copyright Office' Imposter Gets Google To Delist URLs On Section 1201 Grounds

from the fake-views dept

We’ve done more than our share of posts in the past about the problems within the DMCA takedown system as currently practiced. The reason for so many posts is in part due to the sheer number of problems with how this all works. For starters, when notices go out to search engines like Google to delist “problem” URLs, those notices are often times generated by automated systems that unsurprisingly result in a vast majority of notices targeting URLs that are non-infringing. As in, over 99% of those notices. And even once we get past the malpractice of using automation buckshot notices that result in an incredible amount of collateral damage, we then have to add the wide open avenues for fraud and abuse of the DMCA system. That type of fraud runs the gamut, from trolls merely trying to cause chaos for the fun of it to competitors of certain forms of content trying to hurt the competition. In the immortal words of former NFL coach John Fox: “It’s all a problem.”

And, on the fraud and abuse side, it’s such a problem that perfectly legit URLs can get delisted by Google due to a request from “The U.S. Copyright Office”, even though that office doesn’t make those sorts of requests.

Google has received several takedown notices that claim to come from the ‘U.S. Copyright Office’, requesting the search engine to remove ‘problematic’ URLs. The Government body, which is generally not involved in copyright enforcement, informs TorrentFreak that it has nothing to do with these notices. Unfortunately, Google didn’t immediately spot the imposter.  

The Copyright Office is not supposed to take sides in these matters. So, we were quite surprised to see its name on several takedown notices that were sent to Google over the past few days.

The takedown requests are not typical ‘Section 512’ notices. Instead, they point out sites that circumvent technical protection measures, which is in violation of the DMCA’s ‘Section 1201.’ That’s also how Google processed them.

And process at least some of them, Google did. The notices claiming to be from the Copyright Office indicated they were sent on behalf of the Video Industry Association of America, which doesn’t appear to exist based on a Google search I performed. Even if it does, the Copyright Office is not a party to these sorts of takedown requests on behalf of any organization. The URLs targeted appear to be mostly related to stream-ripping sites, but not just sites that offer that service. Instead, some of the URLs targeted merely mention sites that offer stream-ripping services, which is how several TorrentFreak posts got targeted.

Whoever is doing this, it is most certainly not the Copyright Office.

This suspicion was confirmed by the U.S. Copyright Office. A spokesperson informs TorrentFreak that the notices in question were not submitted by them.

This doesn’t mean that the takedown requests were ignored by Google. While our links are still indexed, several of the URLs listed in the notices have indeed been removed because of the notices, which is a problem.

It’s a huge problem, actually. In fact, it demonstrates quite well how broken the current DMCA system has become. The fact that this sort of impersonation is so easy is an issue. The fact that Google is so inundated with these types of requests, which again are overwhelmingly illegitimate, that it cannot review them thoroughly enough to notice the clear impersonation of the Copyright Office at work here is another issue. And the fact that the DMCA process is obviously viewed by some bad actors as a wide open tool to attack their own competition is yet another issue.

And, notably, there isn’t even an appeal process for Section 1201 takedown requests.

Unfortunately, there is no counter-notification option for ‘Section 1201’ takedown notices. This means that sites and services that are affected by these bogus notices have no official appeal process they can use.

But perhaps the U.S. Copyright Office can help with that?

Or maybe someone can just pretend to be the Copyright Office and help. You know, on its “behalf.” It works for the bad actors, after all.

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Companies: google

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Comments on “Fake 'U.S. Copyright Office' Imposter Gets Google To Delist URLs On Section 1201 Grounds”

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36 Comments
...the odd firehose morphing to develop teeth... says:

Technically accurate but misleading.

You re-write:

vast majority of notices targeting URLs that are non-infringing.

But Masnick in the 2017 piece at first link is specific:

machine-generated URLs that do not involve actual pages in the search index.

You imply that GOOGLE had actually checked URLs and cleared them of the charge, while in fact GOOGLE only checks text in its index.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

...the odd firehose morphing to develop teeth... says:

Technically accurate but misleading.

You re-write:

vast majority of notices targeting URLs that are non-infringing.

But Masnick in the 2017 piece at first link is specific:

machine-generated URLs that do not involve actual pages in the search index.

You imply that GOOGLE had actually checked URLs and cleared them of the charge, while in fact GOOGLE only checks text in its index.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Technically accurate but misleading.

There’s nothing wrong with "machine-generated" speculative listings to try and ensure that the content isn’t later listed elsewhere.

The DMCA requires that the person sending a Section 512 takedown notice has a good faith belief that the material listed in the notice is infringing. How can a non-existent "speculative" URL possibly be infringing, and how could anyone have a good faith belief that something that doesn’t exist infringes anything?

Anyone who sends such a notice is blatantly and willfully abusing the process.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

To blue, machine-generated speculative listings are not only the ideal way to enforce copyright, they should be uncontested. Blue is the sort of person who thinks that driving up to a town and machine-gunning every person in sight is the ideal way to do law enforcement.

The simple fact of the matter is that copyright fans are moral only so far as it benefits the RIAA status quo.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

There’s nothing wrong with "machine-generated" speculative listings to try and ensure that the content isn’t later listed elsewhere.

If these listings hit false positives, yes, there is something wrong. It’d be like saying “there’s nothing wrong with using a rocket launcher to end a domestic violence situation”: Of course you’ll kill the criminal, but you’ll also cause a shitload of collateral damage in the process.

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Technically accurate but misleading.

"Techdirt just entirely opposes DMCA, wouldn’t matter if every URL was accurate."

It’s funny how you guys have to lie about the very site you comment on in order to make your "points".

The thing that makes the DMCA so odious is because of the collateral damage. If it weren’t so wide open to abuse with no consequences for the abusers, and only affected those sites that were actually infringing, most people here wouldn’t have anywhere near as much of a problem with it.

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This comment has been deemed funny by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Technically accurate but misleading.

There’s nothing wrong with "machine-generated" speculative listings to try and ensure that the content isn’t later listed elsewhere.

In which case, you have no reason to complain when you get caught in the spam filter…. or is it somehow different when it is your posts being held.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Flip that 99.999% around and you'd be closer to accurate

And you would not just be wrong in thinking so but very wrong, as the article from the first link noted the overwhelming number of DMCA claims Google receives are for sites that were not listed in Google search and therefore would not have appeared in it and are therefore bogus, to the tune of less than 1% of DMCA claims filed being valid.

Here’s the relevant quote from that previous article:

A significant portion of the recent increases in DMCA submission volumes for Google Search stem from notices that appear to be duplicative, unnecessary, or mistaken. As we explained at the San Francisco Roundtable, a substantial number of takedown requests submitted to Google are for URLs that have never been in our search index, and therefore could never have appeared in our search results. For example, in January 2017, the most prolific submitter submitted notices that Google honored for 16,457,433 URLs. But on further inspection, 16,450,129 (99.97%) of those URLs were not in our search index in the first place. Nor is this problem limited to one submitter: in total, 99.95% of all URLs processed from our Trusted Copyright Removal Program in January 2017 were not in our index.

And another one explaining one of the reasons the number is so bloody high:

Nor is the large number of takedown requests to Google a good proxy even for the volume of infringing material available on the Internet. Many of these submissions appear to be generated by merely scrambling the words in a search query and appending that to a URL, so that each query makes a different URL that nonetheless leads to the same page of results.

Unless Google is a complete exception as far as the ratio of bogus to legitimate claims go or things have vastly improved since that article was written(and given there is still effectively no penalty for bogus DMCA claims I doubt it) I’d say it’s a very safe assumption that very nearly all DMCA claims are bogus with the legitimate ones in the very, very tiny minority.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
K`Tetch (profile) says:

Re: overwhelmingly illegitimate

What are you betting?

If it’s not something I want, i’m not interested, because I know I’ll win.

I (and others at TF) look over a whole lot of DMCA requests and most are bad. What if I told you I’m working on one example, where the claiming company deals in a very specific type of content, which the receiving company knows. Yet they’ve had a notice with 300+ entries, claimed to have checked them all and found that only one or two are inaccurate. I’ve gone through the list (ever had the fun of going through the details of a list that’s been DMCA’d and recovering the data? It’s slow, but possible) and I found that over 20% are not only not what was claimed, but were content by the US government and thus in the public domain – and it was INCREDIBLY obvious that was the case.

I found maybe 4% of the claims that were actually work whose rights belong to the DMCA claimant.

This is absolutely standard. it’s normal. It’s how things are.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Wait...

"So what you are saying is, "U.S Copyright Office Gets Google To Delist URLs On Section 1201 Grounds"."

You might want to re-read the article, assuming you bothered reading past the headline:

"Whoever is doing this, it is most certainly not the Copyright Office"

"A spokesperson informs TorrentFreak that the notices in question were not submitted by them."

So, no, your statement was false.

"Don’t not think about it."

Thanks, the double negative in your comment implores people to think about it, so we will continue to do so.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Wait...

You missed the double negative in the headline. An imposter Is someone claiming to be someone he isn’t. A fake is also someone or something not what they appear to be. Putting them together, a fake US copyright office imposter is someone who is not not the US copyright office.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Wait...

How double negatives are treated will vary by culture and language. You’ll notice that double negatives in the US tend to be treated the same way they’re treated in Hispanic cultures: they don’t cancel out, they make the point more emphatic. "I ain’t gotta not do nothing no-how" just means the same as "I don’t have to do it" with a butt-load of emphasis attached to the statement. The headline makes perfect sense to the average American, who won’t trip over the double negative.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Wait...

So what you are saying is, "U.S Copyright Office Gets Google To Delist URLs On Section 1201 Grounds".

Hmmm. While English is confusing, and only occasionally flirts with logic: I think this might not be the only "correct interpretation".

For example: If someone first became a fake Whiny the Poo. And then as "Whiny the Poo" impersonated the "U.S. Copyright Office". I think that could reasonably be describe as a "Fake ‘U.S. Copyright Office’ Imposter"

Basically: as long as "fake" and "Imposter" have different subjects (in this case, Whiny the Poo, and The U.S. Copyright Office) then they don’t negate.

Of course in this case, the article does not appear to suggest the subjects differ.

Anonymous Coward says:

Whats funny is that Universal (and others) view torrents from other film studios as competition vs their own sales of their own movies.

i.e. movie studios KNOW 100% that ripped movie torrents lead to higher sales. Thats why they try to cripple torrents from RIVAL companies, not their own.

Hell, Universal has uploaded their own "ripped" torrents many MANY times to pump up movie sales.

ECA (profile) says:

Still.

Think it would be a good time to have an intermediate company processing ALL this?
Allot of money sitting there, waiting for another compnay to pick it up.
Have a way to look at and process all this Crap Before Google even gets it. WOW, save Google 90% of the money doing hte same thing.

Would be interesting to have a resource that has a list of the Corps who OWN WHAT, and are responsible for the RIAA and MPAA Take downs. Then being able to investigate FAKE Take downs, which would be another money maker.
Be great to setup each company with Coded setup so that you could validate Who is sending the data. And this could be done world wide, What a setup.

And in the background, if there ISNT a IP claim, file and make one, internationally. MORE money.

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