Google keeps a pretty short list of the types of content that it will remove from search results. In addition to illegal or protected information such as child sexual abuse images, certain medical and financial information and government identification, one of these is intellectual property. This includes trademarks, copyrights, patents, trade secrets and other proprietary rights.
Here are some examples of what Google considers as commonly misappropriated copyrighted content:
- Cover art for music albums, video games, and books
- Music or film clips
- Marketing images from movies, television, or video games
- Artwork or images from comic books, cartoons, movies, music videos, or television
Google search result removals have grown exponentially over the years. As Google indexes more content and people rely more on search results, the requests to remove these results go up. At any given time, Google can be handling billions of requests.
What is copyright law?
Straight from the horse’s mouth (the United States government): Copyright serves as your protection against the theft of your intellectual property.
“Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.”
For a full list of protected property, see the U.S. Copyright PDF. There are people, especially in the online world, who don’t seem to respect this protection and many violations of copyright occur on the internet.
Copyright violations are common
Many violations occur without the understanding that the theft was taking place. For instance, maybe a friend of yours posts some quote on a photo that you like. Because you like it so much, you want to share it with your friends.
So, you share your friend's post on your social media. If the original source of the image was copyrighted, congratulations! You may have just infringed on someone's copyright.
Removing copyrighted content from searches
Let’s imagine another scenario where your copyrights are being infringed. Say you wrote a blog entry that someone posted on their blog without your permission or any attribution to you.
Maybe their blog is more searchable, and so when someone searches for the topic of the blog, their post is in the top of the results, making it appear that they wrote and own the content, not you.
For obvious reasons, this is a major problem for you. The first step to get the content removed from search results is to reach out to the publisher and have them remove the content, not the search engine. The search engine isn’t the owner of the content, nor are they publishing any of the content on their site.
So, you’ll need to begin by discovering who is the publisher of the content. It’s not the blog author, but the host of the blog that you’ll need to contact. After finding the publisher using a site like WhoIsHostingThis.com, you can contact them with a link to the original content that includes dates of publishing as well as proof that you are the owner of the content. Always be professional and straightforward in your requests.
Many sites will take the content down because they value their own reputation and don't want to be seen as intellectual property thieves. This is also often the case for news or corporate sites, who base much of their readership on authenticity and honesty. However, you may run into sites that do not comply. Often they are in countries other than the US and don't feel that they have to comply or that they are beyond the reach of the law.
Removing search results from Google for copyright
If the publisher of the copyrighted material won’t comply with your requests, there are other ways of dealing with the content. Google works with people on a regular basis to help remove content from their search results, especially for legitimate copyright infringement.
Remember that Google is not removing the actual material. It is only removing it from the search results and if someone visits the original page that hosts the infringing material, it is still present and accessible.
Having the search results removed from Google by filing a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) complaint against the site through Google is an effective way to handle this. Due to Google's size and the other companies it owns and operates, this can also be used for its subsidiaries such as YouTube and Blogger.
What is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)?
Passed in 1998, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a federal law designed to protect copyright holders from online theft resulting from the distribution or reproduction of their works without permission. The DMCA not only covers images, but music, movies, writing and any intellectual property that is copyrighted.
The law allows those who believe their copyrights have been violated to file a request known as a "take down request" with internet entities such as Google. The law also provides exemptions from direct and indirect liability for Internet Service Providers and other digital companies.
Google suggests before you file that you ask yourself three questions:
- Are you the copyright owner of the work?
- Do you have permission to all third-party material used in the work from the appropriate copyright owner(s)?
- Should your use of any copyrighted material be considered a fair use, fair dealing or qualify for an exception under the applicable copyright law?
Google has a DMCA Dashboard that will help you file the complaint. You must have a Google account to file the complaint, and aside from the specifics of the filing, that’s all the information you'll need.
In order to show users what is and isn't actionable, Google even lists some cases where they had declined to remove the material:
- A driving school filed a request against another school because they had "had copied an alphabetized list of cities and regions where instruction was offered."
- In another case, a woman claimed her name was copyrightable and should thereby be removed from posted court records.
- A U.S. company filed a request to remove search results that linked to an employee's blog postings about unjust and unfair treatment.
If a removal request is successful but the website owner who had been hosting the material in question believes they were not in the wrong, they can file a counter claim. If Google believes the initial decision was incorrect, they will reinstate the link.
Filing a legal claim
Another option is a legal removal request from Google in which they will assess the content’s legality and remove it from search results based on that criteria. Laws vary based on country or territory. A court order from a judge tends to carry far more weight than that of an attorney or private citizen. But playing the litigation card is always a difficult decision, so make sure you discuss it with your legal representatives and take the situation very seriously before heading down that road.
If you have questions about copyright infringement or would like to learn more about online reputation management services, let us know. We are not attorneys, but if you need one, we may be able to make a recommendation or find alternative ways to deal with copyright issues. We're happy to help.
Copyright infringement FAQs
What is copyright law?
Copyright serves as your protection against the theft of your intellectual property. The U.S. government defines it as a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.
How do I get infringing written material such as blogs taken down?
Find out who is the publisher of the site and reach out to them. In a professional manner, explain the situation, show your proof and request they remove the infringing material. If this doesn't work, turn to Google and file a take down request.
How do I remove copyrighted content from Google?
You can remove search results from Google by filing a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) complaint against the site. Google has a DMCA Dashboard that will help you file the complaint.
What is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act?
The DMCA is a US federal law that protects individuals and their digital property from online theft and misuse. The passage allowed for people to file take down notices with companies like Google in the case of copyright infringements.
What types of things can be deleted from Google search results?
In addition to copyright infringements in conjunction with the DMCA, Google policy violations include items that violate the law such as child sexual abuse images, certain financial information and government identification as well as images of signatures and confidential personal medical records.
Note: Reputation X is not a law firm.