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A big number, obviously.

And 100 million is also the number of takedown requests that dominant search engine Google has now received from music groups under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Fifteen years is also a long time, but astonishingly little has been done by the search engines – and Google in particular – to prevent access to illegal content via one of the most important connection points the world has ever seen. While Google and its video platform YouTube see huge amounts of traffic from searches related to music, movies, television shows and other entertainment industry content, the company has taken only a passive approach to protecting the copyright that comes with it.

And it is exactly that concern that the Recording Industry Association of America’s (RIAA) Cary Sherman and International Federation of the Phonographic Industry’s (IFPI) Frances Moore are highlighting this week, as Google passes a milestone that represents both hard work and lack of effort in the same instance. As Sherman bluntly summarizes the point, this is “100 million times Google offered to direct users to illegal sources for music.”

Doing More to Do Less

The search engines may spin the 100 million takedowns as evidence of their commitment to fighting piracy, but the reality is that the number should have taken far longer to reach and the number of takedown requests should actually be slowing. The measure should be a last resort for content that somehow slips through the net and into the search results, not the new normal that is has become.

Frustrated rights holders and industry groups have long advocated a much more hands-on approach from Google in demoting or scrubbing entirely those domains that consistently break the law. As it seeks to revitalize the momentum that the search engine has long promised on these stricter measures, the RIAA has used this milestone to push this five-point anti-piracy plan for it to commit to:

  1. Fulfill the admirable promise to demote sites receiving extensive numbers of piracy notices.
  2. Make sure that the “take down” of a song is meaningful – not repopulated online two seconds later.
  3. Educate users by identifying authorized sites with a consumer-friendly “icon”.
  4. Stop leading users to illegal sites through autocomplete.
  5. Give your repeat offender policies some teeth.

Although the year ahead seems most likely to see just more lip-service paid by companies in Google’s position, the only option for organizations fighting for the intellectual property rights of artists is to keep up the pressure.

The longer that progress against piracy remains slow, the more it strengthens the arguments of the RIAA and IFPI that the search engines must do more. The higher the number of takedown requests gets, the less it shows Google is doing to fulfill its promises to get tough on piracy.

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