Microsoft copyright takedown targeted BBC, CNN, and Wikipedia

A copyright infringement takedown request from Microsoft wrongly accused websites such as BBC, CNN, Huffington Post, and Wikipedia of linking to illegal content. The sites were wrongly identified by Microsoft’s French division, which asked Google to censor the links in its results.

While this does not seem to be part of an evil plot by Microsoft, it does indicate that having a human checking over automated takedown requests might help avoid such errors.

Microsoft filed the complaint under the copyright clause of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to Google in July and identified hundreds of URLs pointing to apparently pirated copies of Windows 8, Microsoft Office, and Xbox 360 games. Most of the links are to torrent websites, but a number of legitimate sources were found through the links by TorrentFreak. The full complaint by Microsoft was published on the Chilling Effects website.

Among the links Microsoft asked Google to censor were also URLs for AMC Theatres, BBC, Buzzfeed, CNN, Huffington Post, TechCrunch, RealClearPolitics, Rotten Tomatoes, Washington Post, Wikipedia, and even U.S. Government websites. It appears the only things these links had in common were references to the number 45 in the page title or content, and they were clearly not linking to illegal copies of Microsoft software.

dmca copyright takedown screen
DMCA takedown notice (click to enlarge).

The URLs were crawled automatically by software, and Microsoft’s DMCA takedown request means that Google would have to exclude the URLs in search results. The BBC noted that its site and other major outlets are on Google's approved list, so its pages were not affected by the takedown. Other sites wrongly accused, such as AMC Theatres and RealClearPolitics, were affected; some of their pages were excluded from Google’s search results. Those pages are still unavailable.

TorrentFreak questioned the speed with which DMCA takedown demands are granted, without verification by humans: “Right now rightsholders and the anti-piracy outfits they employ have absolutely no incentive to improve the accuracy of their automated takedown systems, so perhaps it’s time for them to be punished?” It might depend on whose site gets downed next.

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