Google Protected by 17 USC 512(d) for Links to Infringing Content; Perfect 10’s Takedown Notices Were Mostly Insufficient

By Eric Goldman

Perfect 10, Inc. v. Google, Inc., 2:04-cv-09484-AHM-SH (C.D. Cal. July 26, 2010)

In 2007, the Ninth Circuit issued an important but befuddling ruling in Perfect 10 v. Amazon and Google. That ruling addressed Perfect 10’s prima facie case of secondary copyright infringement against Google (and Amazon, which was using Google results) and remanded the case back to the district court for consideration of that issue as well as the underexplored 17 USC 512 safe harbors.

We’ve had a couple of blog-worthy rulings since then (on a motion to dismiss and A9’s eligibility for the DMCA safe harbors), but it’s taken 3 years to see where the court stands on Google’s eligibility for the DMCA online safe harbors. The news is largely good for Google.

* Google’s lack of user accounts for content loaded into web search and image search means that Google can’t have a repeat infringer policy for those services. Google’s Blogger practices satisfied the requirement to terminate repeat infringers.

* Google web search, image search, Blogger (to the extent the problem is user posted links) and search cache (also to the extent the problem is cached photos) are all eligible for protection under 17 USC 512(d) with minor exceptions I’ll discuss in a moment. This is a noteworthy ruling because it’s one of only a handful explicitly addressing 512(d), which provides a safe harbor for links to infringing content. Most of the online safe harbor rulings have involved 512(c), the safe harbor for hosting infringing content. To refresh my memory, I did a quick search in Westlaw, and I did not immediately recall a prior ruling where a service provider won a 512(d) defense. If so, then this is an important precedent. (Please email me to let me know what 512(d) cases I’ve forgotten).

* The parties divided Perfect 10’s takedown notices into three groups:

– Group A. These were categorically defective because Perfect 10 sent them to the wrong email address and they “uniformly do not identify specifically which copyrighted works were infringed.”

– Group B. Apparently most of these notices referenced bogus URLs, but some URLs were legit, which gave Google enough information to locate the infringing links. There is a factual dispute about how long it took Google to respond to the legit notices; Perfect 10 alleges that it was up to 7 months, which probably won’t qualify as an expeditious response. As a result, for the legitimate Group B takedown notices, Google could be on the hook for any that weren’t honored expeditiously.

– Group C. The court describes this group of Perfect 10’s takedown notices:

The Group C notices generally consist of a cover letter, a spreadsheet, and a hard drive or DVDs containing electronic files. Where P10 provided spreadsheets, the spreadsheets do not identify the infringing URL, but merely the top-level URL for the entire website. P10 evidently expected Google to comb through hundreds of nested electronic folders containing over 70,000 distinct files, including raw image files such as JPEG files and

screen shots of Google search results, in order to find which link was allegedly infringing. In many cases, the file containing the allegedly infringing image does not even include a URL, or the URL was truncated. The spreadsheets also do not identify the copyrighted work that was allegedly infringed….P10 then expected Google to search through a separate electronic folder—attached only to the June 28, 2007 DMCA notice—containing all of the more than 15,000 images that appeared on P10’s website as of June 2007, in order to identify the copyrighted work that was infringed. [citations omitted]

Per the Ninth Circuit’s ccBill ruling, this paint-by-numbers approach to takedown notices does not work. The delivery of a big database of copyrighted works does not sufficiently identify the infringed works as required by 512(c)(3), nor does Google have to navigate multiple documents to piece together the 512(c)(3) elements. The court helpfully lays out how the 512(c)(3) information must be presented to count as a 512(c)(3) notice:

at a minimum, the essential elements of notification—the copyright owner’s attestations of ownership, nonlicensed use, and veracity of the notice; contact information for the complainant; identification of the copyrighted work; and identification of the infringing material (including the location of that material and if necessary, a specific link under section 512(d))—must be included in a single written communication.

* Google qualifies for 512(c) for hosting infringing copies in Blogger with the exception of up to 23 URLs that might have been covered by a legitimate Group B notice.

The implications of this ruling are pretty straightforward. Copyright owners who want service providers to intervene on their behalf should not get creative or lazy with their 512(c)(3) takedown notices. Over and over again, we’ve seen that the big service providers will respond quickly to properly drafted takedown notices; and we’ve seen judges become increasingly less tolerant of plaintiffs who couldn’t bother to follow the statutory roadmap. So plaintiffs, please just follow the statute; it’s pretty clear on what you need to do.

Overall, this case reminded me of the recent (uncited) Perfect 10 v. RapidShare ruling because that judge also implicitly showed little sympathy to Perfect 10. Perhaps the courts are finally prepared to put an end to Perfect 10’s litigation madness. However, given there are a sliver of legitimate Group B notices, Perfect 10 still has a way to continue to make Google’s life miserable.

More comments on the case from the EFF and Techdirt.