Commentary

Google Lawyer: Piracy Act Would Enable Copyright Trolls

Last week, Google lawyer Katherine Oyama told a House panel that one reason to oppose the Stop Online Piracy Act is that the bill makes it more likely that so-called trolls will be able to get other people's lawful content removed.

That's because the bill gives people -- including those with suspect motives -- “a simple avenue for cutting off legitimate companies from payment processing and advertising services,” she testified.

“As those familiar with the antics of anonymous Internet pranksters and copyright trolls will appreciate, individuals pursuing malicious agendas can fabricate 'termination notices' that intermediaries are required to comply with unless they receive a counternotice within five days,” she said in her written testimony. “Legitimate sites, both foreign and domestic, trying to defend themselves against a barrage of illegitimate termination notices will have little recourse against anonymous trolls who may themselves be 'foreign rogues,' impossible to identify and too impecunious to pay any judgments.”

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The bill is aimed at targeting "rogue" sites -- defined as sites dedicated to infringement. Among other provisions, the measure provides for orders banning ad networks and payment processors from doing business with such sites, and for orders prohibiting search engines from returning links to "rogue" sites.

For anyone who wonders whether the concerns raised by Google are realistic, consider two recent news stories. Wiredreports today that the Russian company Netcom Partners has been filing bogus copyright notices with YouTube in order to obtain ad revenue associated with clips through the ContentId program. That program was designed to allow content owners to find copyrighted material that users uploaded and demand its removal or a cut of the ad revenue associated with it. 

Then there's the case of Carolyn Wright, an attorney and award-winning photographer whose site, www.vividwildlife.com, recently was taken down by GoDaddy.com in response to a mistaken infringement claim. She tells MediaPost that the person making the claim used a model takedown letter, which she drafted, and that included URLs to her own photos. The claimant forgot to substitute the URLs he actually was complaining about for the ones in Wright's model.

The matter is resolved now, and the site is live once again. But it illustrates the potential danger of encouraging companies to act against Web users based on mere allegations of copyright infringement.

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