Monday, June 05, 2006

Signing DMCA Take-Downs with Google

Pladiarism Today has a nice post on how to deal with Google regarding DMCA take-down notices. According to its DMCA policy page, Google requires written (ie. not electronic) notification of your complaint. Microsoft, Yahoo!, LiveJournal and MySpace all accept DMCA take-down notices via email, which puts Google in a unique position in accepting only physical complaints.

Section 512(c)(3)(A)(i) of the DMCA provides for both written and electronic signatures attached to notifications of potential copyright infringement. PT gives a good explanation of how to deal with this difference and how to hack around Google's restrictions, but also suggests that perhaps Google has a deeper problem with electronic signatures generally. Admittedly, such would be silly considering all the things people already do by signing (or not signing things at all) electronically, however, perhaps Google should change their policy and step in line with everyone else.

I think there may be something more to this at least in that electronic signatures, or the lack thereof, remove a psychological block that people may have regarding commitment. Where the physical act of having to sign something physical makes us step back and question what it is we are signing, and perhaps we are more likely to question because the person handing us the document is a source of information that makes questions easier to deal with, such a support system is lost online. Few people read end user license agreements and simply click 'Accept' without thinking or knowing what we are accepting. I wonder whether as many people would still blankly accept if a clerk provided us with a copy and talked it over with us before we signed it, much like signing up for a cell phone. Granted, the cell phone business may not be the best example of responsible consumer behavior, but consumers might at least be empowered to make more rational decisions.

Google is probably justified with their policy because of the extra burden it puts on those complaining of infringement. The extra burden is not great - merely whip up a letter and put it in the mail - and since much more effort is required to fulfill the other requirements of such notices, the incidental burden of providing Google with a hard copy doesn't seem all that onerous. Rather, it seems an effective way to ensure that only those with legitimate claims (at least those most motivated to go to the mailbox) take up the time and effort of the G-lawyer Unit. It makes a person step back, at least for a second, and think about whether it's really worth it. If it stops even some erroneous claims then the policy has worked beautifully. Hurrah to Google, and yes, there should be a more standard way of dealing with DMCA notices amongst the various services, but I think Google's way is the way to go.
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