Recent developments have brought the issue of Google’s “blacklisting” web sites to the forefront of the debate over the continuing problem of Google turning a blind eye to copyright infringement.
On November 4, 2014, a lawsuit was filed against Google in the Federal District Court for the Middle District of Florida, alleging violations of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. 1 The Plaintiff, e-ventures Worldwide, a search engine optimization service (known as a SEO) alleged that Google had permanently blacklisted 231 of its websites. 2 In addition, it is alleged by e-ventures that new websites they created were also immediately blacklisted by Google. 3
On November 13, 2014, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) sent a request to Google to blacklist 81 separate web domains. 4 Google removed 21 and left another 60 up and operating. 5 Why not remove them all? According to the website Torrent Freak, Google said:
“We’ve designed a variety of policies to comply with the requirements of the law, while weeding out false positives and material that’s too remote from infringing activity.” 6
Once again, this is Google claiming that it has discretion in an area of the law that does not provide any basis for exercising discretion, as previously discussed in a prior bog post. 7
Yet this begs the question: Does Google have the ability to “blacklist” your website?
Apparently, it does. And it does so on a daily basis. And once again, Google acts in an entirely capricious manner, based upon whether Google’s self-interests are at play.
According to Forbes’ magazine website, Google “blacklists” nearly 10,000 sites every day. 8 According to this website, 9 (which offers you services to get you back in Google’s good graces) here are some of the reasons Google might blacklist you:
- Website is redirecting to a porn site, auto loan site, or some other variation
- Website is showing as possibly compromised on Google, Bing or any other number of search engines
- Your host has shut your website down or notified you that you are infected
- You see pharmaceutical references or any other unintentional reference on your website
- You see bank directories on your server (i.e., Bank of Toronto, Chase, WellsFargo, etc.) and you didn’t put them there
- Clients are complaining that desktop AV’s are blocking your website (i.e., McAfee, AVG, Microsoft, etc.)
- You see administrators or users in your website that you didn’t create or authorize
Google, of course, spins this as a public service for keeping you safe on the internet. As reported by Money/CNN: 10
“Google spokesman Jason Freidenfelds emphasized that point. ‘About 1 billion people receive protection against phishing and malware every day because of the warnings we show users about unsafe websites.’”
So here is Google’s hypocrisy and capriciousness on full display. Undoubtedly, phishing scams and infecting computers with malware are illegal. So is copyright infringement. Distributing or viewing pornography is not illegal, but sites that redirect to pornography get blacklisted. Sites that redirect to copyright infringement get to stay up.
But wait, there’s more!
On this website is a handy list of search words that are “blacklisted” by Google and will make Google’s auto-complete go blank. 11 Some on the list are no longer valid or out of date. What follows are the ones I could independently verify. Notable are the words “babes,” which means the Disney film “Babes in Toyland” is on the blacklist, plus the words “bitch” (veterinarians beware!), “clitoris,” “cocaine,” “Lolita” (which means the Stanley Kubrick film of the same name is blacklisted), “penis,” “swastika,” and “white power” (but, N.B. ”black power “ is OK).
By contrast, type in the word “bit” and “BitTorrent,” the number 1 platform for pirating copyrighted works, is your second listed auto-complete choice.
So, let’s rewind to earlier this year when Google Senior Copyright Policy Counsel Katherine Oyama told a Congressional sub-committee that “you can’t block the word ‘free’ from a search.” 12 Well, apparently you can, and Google does it every day by blocking certain words from auto-complete. Add to this that Google apparently blocks 10,000 sites a day for various reasons, for which Google acts as judge, jury and executioner, including for activities which are perfectly legal, such as offering pornography.
As an example, this lawsuit against Google, brought by the owner of the CoastNews.com website, claimed that his business was top rated in search results from Bing or Yahoo, but for some reason nowhere to be found when the same terms were searched through Google. 13 According to the complaint, Google took this action because it falsely claimed the Plaintiff was a “pornography website.” 14 But once again, the distribution of pornography is not illegal, but Google allegedly blocked it from appearing in their search results.
In the e-ventures case, it is alleged that Google blacklisted them because their web sites were “pure spam.” 15 Now under certain circumstances, the sending of “spam” is illegal. 16 But once again, copyright infringement is illegal as well. And again, Google takes active steps to blacklist “spam” websites, but not those that engage in copyright infringement.
As previously noted on this blog, the RIAA has sent Google more than 3 million DMCA takedown notices regarding the notorious pirate website MP3Skull.com. 17 Yet, if you go to Google and type in as little as “MP3 sk,“ Google will show an auto-complete to MP3Skulls and take you directly to the pirate site.
So the issue here is not censorship, as Google is a private company, not a government agency. The order dismissing the case brought by CoastNews.com correctly ruled that Google’s search results are protected free speech. 18 After all, as a private entity, Google can frame its results in any manner they see fit, as long as those results are not anti-competitive, a topic way beyond the scope of this humble copyright blog.
So why doesn’t Google blacklist the pirate websites? A previous blog post detailed the all too cozy relationship between Google and the pirate sites, 19 so the real answer seems to be that Google finds it too profitable not to continue to send traffic their way, especially where Google has AdSense accounts on them.
So, all the protestations from Google that they can’t block the pirate sites is truly hogwash. Google not only blacklists 10,000 sites a day but also puts certain key words into auto-complete limbo. What Google lacks is the good faith conviction that any normal citizen should have, and that is not to help crooks have an easy time ripping off content creators.
- E-Ventures Worldwide, LLC v. Google, Inc. 2:14-cv-00646-JES-CM ↩
- Id. at page 2 ↩
- Id. ↩
- Google Transparency Report ↩
- Id. ↩
- Google Refuses MPAA Request to Blacklist ‘Pirate Site’ Homepages ↩
- Google Is As Google Does: How Google Cheats Both Sides of the DMCA Takedown Process ↩
- Avoid Google’s Blacklist By Protecting Your Business Site ↩
- Understand Google Website Blacklists ↩
- Google’s dreaded ‘blacklist’ ↩
- Google Blacklist – Words That Google Instant Doesn’t Like ↩
- Section 512 of Title 17; at 2:07:18 ↩
- The Case Against Google ↩
- Id. at page 7 ↩
- E-Ventures Worldwide, LLC v. Google, Inc. 2:14-cv-00646-JES-CM at page 6 ↩
- CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 ↩
- DMCA “Takedown” Notices: Why “Takedown” Should Become “Take Down and Stay Down” and Why It’s Good for Everyone at endnote 21 ↩
- S. Louis Martin vs. Google, Inc. ↩
- DMCA “Takedown” Notices: Why “Takedown” Should Become “Take Down and Stay Down” and Why It’s Good for Everyone ↩