In 2012, Google expanded its transparency report with a new section dedicated to DMCA takedown requests.
For the first time, outsiders were able to see which URLs were being targeted by copyright holders and in what quantity.
The decision to make this information public was in part triggered by a rapid increase in removal requests. The increased activity impacted the “free flow of information”, the search engine argued.
According to Fred von Lohmann, Google’s Senior Copyright Counsel at the time, the volume of DMCA notices was skyrocketing. At times, the company was processing over 250,000 takedown requests a week, more than previously received in an entire year.
Today, that weekly figure of 250,000 requests has increased to well over 30 million, a new record. While Google has set plenty of records in the past, the recent resurgence in DMCA takedowns is somewhat atypical.
From Millions to Over a Billion
When Google first made the numbers public it was processing a few million DMCA takedown requests in a year. That number swiftly increased to hundreds of millions and eventually reached a billion yearly DMCA requests in 2016.
The exponential growth curve eventually flattened out and around 2017, the takedown volume started to decline. The decrease was in part due to various anti-piracy algorithms making pirated content less visible in search results.
By downranking pirate sites, infringing content became harder to find. As a result, Google processed fewer takedown notices, a welcome change for both rightsholders and the search engine.
Today, Google continues to make pirate sites less visible in search, but the reduction in takedown notices didn’t last. On the contrary, over the past several months, Google search processed a record number of DMCA notices.
Last summer, the search giant reached a new milestone when it recorded the 7 billionth takedown request and, five months later, it can add more than 700 million new ones to this tally.
The company is now handling removal requests at a rate of more than 1.6 billion per year; a new record. This is more than 30 million takedown requests per week and roughly 50 every second.
The graph below illustrates how these numbers have grown over time, with the most recent uptick on the right.
Will it Last?
We noticed that the volume of takedown requests had begun to increase again last August. At the time, we suggested that this could be a temporary uptick since the increase in volume could in large part be attributed to adult company MG Premium, which reported hundreds of millions of URLs in just a few months.
Since MG Premium scaled down its efforts last summer, volumes should have normalized. What we didn’t foresee was several other rightsholders stepping in to take over.
Over the past few months, takedown outfits Link-Busters.com and Comeso have increased their efforts. Together, they now submit roughly two-thirds of the recent DMCA notices to Google. If that persists, this would be good for a billion yearly requests.
The two companies work with a variety of rightsholders. Link-Busters mostly works with major publishers, including Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, and Hachette. Comeso, in turn, has sent most takedowns on behalf of KakaoPage, a major webtoon publisher.
In the past, video and music rightsholders were responsible for the bulk of DMCA requests, but this has now switched to publishers. How Google’s takedown volume develops going forward, and if any new records will be broken in the near future, will largely depend on these players.
Then again, it’s also possible that an entirely new anti-piracy outfit will surface and take over. There’s never a dull moment in takedown land.
For background, this article refers to the number of URLs reported in DMCA takedown requests to Google. The search engine can remove the URLs from its index in response, or place them on a preemptive blacklist if they are not yet indexed. Finally, a small number of notices don’t link to infringing material, requiring no response from Google.