Global Project Looks At Takedown Notices Across The Internet

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The Takedown Project is a recent initiative bringing the research community together to explore how the notice-and-takedown procedure in cases of alleged online copyright infringement are handled by internet service providers around the world. The project aims to create greater transparency in order to improve the quality of this global regulatory system.

The project was launched in 2013 by Joe Karaganis, vice-president of the American Assembly at Columbia University and Jennifer M. Urban, assistant clinical professor of law and director of the Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic at the University of California-Berkeley School of Law.

Presently, the project comprises more than 35 affiliated researchers from US, Europe, Middle East and Australia and seven partner organisations, including the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. Its first meeting took place in Amsterdam in June 2013.

A takedown notice is defined by Urban as “a notification sent to an online service provider, requesting that content or links to content be removed,” in case of infringement of copyright and related rights.

In the US, under Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), this procedure is one of the requirements for internet service providers (ISPs) to benefit from an exemption from liability. But in the European Union, there is no consensus on this point.

However, this Section 512 model has been increasingly replicated in other jurisdictions and followed formally or informally for other – non-copyright – claims, like privacy or trademarks, Urban told Intellectual Property Watch.

Over the years, the practice has also dramatically changed. Search takedown requests to Google, for instance, have increased from hundreds per year to millions per week, she said.

Additionally, numerous voluntary agreements have appeared. An example is the Copyright Alert System, deployed by the Center for Copyright Information in the US, through which content owners and ISPs together investigate and possibly take measures against offending subscribers, such as sending six electronic warnings also known as the “six strikes program.”

In the meantime, “only a few providers systematically release notices and none explicitly describe their procedures,” Urban said. “Notice and takedown is a large black box.”

To address this lack of information, the Takedown Project aims to shed light on how these systems work in a variety of jurisdictions using different researchers’ perspectives.

“Solid research is very important to help users of the system and policymakers come to good decisions,” Urban said, and “researchers are well-placed to provide independent, impartial information about the costs and benefits of notice and takedown and to explore questions about its efficacy and its shortcomings.”

At UC Berkeley and Columbia, they are currently examining the formal notice-and-takedown procedures under Section 512 of the DMCA received by US ISPs.

Simultaneously, they are also conducting two surveys. One is qualitative, focusing on the practices and strategies of these actors. The other is quantitative, based on detailed coding in order to understand the integrity of the notice process and create a foundation for other inquiries in this field, explained Urban. Both will provide information “as seen from the perspective of those who interact with the system,” she said.

From a long-term perspective, their broader purpose is to improve collaboration and sharing among these researchers through what Urban calls “the Takedown Research Network.” Today, it already includes analyses of many countries such as the US, Israel, Australia, and the United Kingdom, as well as the EU more broadly.

The success of the Takedown Project will likely depend in part “on how ISPs will be able to implement any changes,” Urban said.

In fact, “depending on their resources and services, different ISPs may have different opinions about it,” she said. For instance, smaller ISPs with fewer resources are more worried about the cost of proposals for “filtering” or “stay-down” mechanisms than big players.

Given the actual role of takedown notices as major source of regulation for intellectual property distribution and free expression online, the Takedown Project has come to understand their evolution as well as their role in mediating the responsibilities of copyright holders and ISPs, and in addressing conflicts between copyright and freedom of expression, Urban said.

Joséphine De Ruyck was an intern at Intellectual Property Watch. She is currently finishing an LLM degree in intellectual property rights and ICT law at University of Leuven in Belgium. She holds a Master’s Degree in Law with honours from University of Louvain and an LLM degree from Queen Mary University of London. She has a strong interest in several intellectual property issues, especially access to health, climate change and new challenges facing copyright law.

Joséphine De Ruyck may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

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