Behind the Scenes of Online Copyright Enforcement: Empirical Evidence on Notice & Takedown
47 Pages Posted: 6 Aug 2018
Date Written: July 15, 2018
Copyright enforcement was one of the early challenges to the rule of law on the internet and has shaped its development since the early 1990s. The Notice and Takedown (N&TD) regime, enacted in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, offered online intermediaries immunity from liability in exchange for removing allegedly infringing materials upon receiving notice from rights holders. The unequivocal power of rights holders to request removal and the strong incentives for online intermediaries to remove content upon receiving a removal request have turned the N&TD regime into a robust clean-up mechanism for removing any unwarranted content. The N&TD procedure applies to private facilities, makes use of proprietary software, and is administered by private companies. This enforcement procedure is nontransparent and lacks sufficient legal or public oversight. Unlike copyright enforcement in court, where decisions are made public, we know very little about the actual implementation of the N&TD regime: Which players make use of the system? Who is targeted? What materials get removed and why? How effective is the removal of infringing materials, and does it comply with copyright law? This Article offers empirical evidence on the implementation of the N&TD regime based on the systematic coding and analysis of a large-scale data-set of removal requests sent to Google Search. The findings shed light on the major changes that have taken place in copyright enforcement following the transition to the online arena over the past decade. Analysis of the data reveals that the N&TD procedure has been extensively used to remove noninfringing materials, and most removal requests pertained to allegedly inaccurate, defamatory, or misleading content. These findings raise serious concerns that the N&TD procedure is becoming fertile ground for misuse. Moreover, online enforcement is dominated by multinational companies, which prefer to target global intermediaries rather than attempt to remove materials hosted by local platforms. This may lead to underenforcement of copyright online, as the exclusive focus on removal of links to allegedly infringing materials may limit access to these materials, yet fail to actually remove these same materials. The local hosting platforms which facilitates access to repeat infringments, are widely known within the relevant community of users. This calls into question the effectiveness of this enforcement strategy. At the same time, however, the data demonstrates instances of overenforcement, where some materials have been removed on questionable grounds. Thus, the findings raise concerns over the implications of the N&TD regime for access to knowledge and freedom of speech. Overall, the study shows that in the absence of sufficient oversight, the N&TD regime is vulnerable to misuse, carrying consequences to copyright goals, access to justice, and due process. By uncovering the invisible dynamics at work in online copyright enforcement, this Article may contribute to identifying the challenges facing policymakers in shaping online enforcement procedures and developing the appropriate measures to address them.
Keywords: Copyrights, Notice&Takedown, DMCA, Algorithmic Decision Making
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