As reported by BBC News, film studio Warner Bros. formally, but inadvertently, requested that some of its own websites be removed from Google search results for violating copyright laws.
Bogus takedown requests
Warner Bros. also formally requested that Google remove search results linked to licensed movie streaming websites run by Sky Cinema and Amazon, as well as to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) (a popular film database website owned by Amazon that uses third party copyrighted material largely on a fair use basis). Google, after reviewing the takedown requests, elected not to remove its search result links to Sky Cinema, Amazon and IMDB.
Takedown service company
These formal takedown requests were submitted to Google on behalf of Warner Bros. by Vobile, a company that files hundreds of thousands of takedown requests every month. As featured in a 2009 article in Forbes, Vobile was founded in the United States by a Chinese executive based on the promise of sinking video piracy in China. Vobile was successful in signing agreements with popular video streaming sites in China (e.g., 56.com) to use Vobile’s audio and video “fingerprinting” technology to identify and filter copyrighted video and music files.
Vobile clients include most of the major United States media companies, who signed up for Vobile’s service with the hope of policing the growing amount of pirated content on Chinese, as well as Western, sites.
According to Google’s transparency report, Vobile has submitted more than 13 million links for requested removal from Google search results.
Beyond hurting its own clients, through inadvertent attempts to remove links to their legitimate content, Vobile might also subject its clients to legal liability. The available data does not allow us to draw a conclusion, but it’s not hard to envision that with so many takedown requests, Vobile has on behalf of its clients inadvertently requested takedown of legitimate content (or links thereto) that is not owned by its clients. Likewise, it is not hard to envision that recipients (e.g., Google, video sharing sites, etc.) inundated with these takedown requests would err on the side of caution and remove legitimate content (or links thereto) owned by third parties, despite the lack of any copyright infringement.
Might these third parties then have causes of action against Vobile’s clients (in China or the United States), e.g., based on for unfair business practices or libel?