Every week copyright holders send millions of DMCA takedown notices to Google in the hope of making pirated content harder to find.
Microsoft has been one of the most active senders and over the past month alone has asked Google to remove more than a million infringing URLs from its indexes. In addition the software giant also strips infringing links from its own search engine Bing.
While most of the submitted URLs do indeed link to infringing content, not all requests sent by Microsoft and other copyright holders are correct. Their often automated anti-piracy systems regularly trigger notices that include links to perfectly legitimate content, sometimes from direct competitors.
The latter happened with several recent DMCA takedown requests sent to Google on behalf of Microsoft. The notices, which contain references to unauthorized copies of Microsoft Office, also list many links with Apache’s open source office suite OpenOffice in the title.
Microsoft targets OpenOffice
The example illustrated above is not an isolated incident either. A quick search reveals that more than a dozen notices sent in June alone (e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) include links to OpenOffice downloads, mostly on BitTorrent sites.
OpenOffice itself lists several official torrents on its download page and many of these are re-distributed across torrent sites. However, thanks to the overbroad filtering techniques of Microsoft’s DMCA takedown vendors many of these have now been stripped from Google and other search engines, Bing included.
Admittedly, OpenOffice and Microsoft Office are related terms, so mistakes can happen. However, based on the URLs we see that few attempts have been made to prevent this particular error from happening. It wouldn’t be hard, for example, to exclude the keywords “Open Office” to minimize instances of collateral damage.
Over the past several months Microsoft and many other copyright holders have built up a dubious track record when it comes to DMCA takedown notices. In addition to many “bogus” claims the company also tried to have its own website removed from Google.
The above mistakes may be relatively harmless to Apache’s OpenOffice, but they show once again how much can go wrong with these automated DMCA notices. This is particularly troublesome since Google down-ranks sites based on the number of DMCA notices it receives for them.
TorrentFreak asked Microsoft to comment on the mistakes but we have yet to hear back. Previously a company spokesman told us that the company is trying hard to eliminate false positives.
“Microsoft is committed to ensuring that copyright is respected online and that enforcement measures are appropriate and accurate. We and our vendors use several measures to verify the accuracy of information contained in our DMCA notices, including algorithmic and human review of notices,” Microsoft informed us.
Despite these efforts erroneous takedowns continue to stack up.
Update: TorrentFreak verified that legitimate Open Office links are censored. However, several of the links point to 1MB installers without seeders and are impossible to verify. In any case, they don’t point to Microsoft products.
Update: Microsoft came back with a response.
“Microsoft is committed to ensuring copyright is respected online and enforcement measures are appropriate and accurate. We apologize when a notice is mistakenly directed to non-infringing content and take immediate action. We are committed to fixing the process that led to this result,” a Microsoft spokesperson told us.