It may be appropriate to add a third item to the list of things that are certain in life, in addition to death and taxes, and that is the if you publish content online, a scraper will come along and copy your content.
This post is about utilizing Google DMCA takedown requests to target counterfeiters using your photography. It is based on my experience in going after fashion counterfeiters, but may be relevant to any content producer that is being victimized by copyright infringers republishing their intellectual property.
For many of those that publish original content online, it is can be both annoying and mildly flattering to have their intellectual property "stolen" and republished. But for those that publish music, videos, text, or images with commercial intent, copyright infringers are taking money out of their pockets. The impact of counterfeiters republishing copyrighted images has hit the North American fashion industry particularly hard. The counterfeiters steal and republish photos of designer fashions in order to sell shoddy reproductions or simply rip-off the buyers.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a United States copyright law that criminalizes production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures that control access to copyrighted works. While the DMCA extended the reach of copyright protections, it also limits the liability of the providers of on-line services and search engines for copyright infringement by their users or sources they spider and index.
For the fashion industry, it sometimes seems as if the DMCA is simply a convenient piece of legislation that Google and other search engines hide behind so that can: 1) sell ads to counterfeiters, and 2) avoid going to the trouble of screening out copyright infringers. For reference, this post is specific to Google because they are the market leader and also because (based on my unscientific visual review) their index is the most badly infested with counterfeiters. Somehow, Bing has figured out how to keep the most egregious counterfeiters out of their index.
On a positive note, Google can be credited with actively responding to DMCA copyright takedown requests. When a producer of original content finds their copyrighted intellectual property appearing on a Google search engine results page, they can file a request to have the link removed from the Google index. The copyright does not have to be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office for you to take advantage of this provision. (as detailed in this post)
The process for filing a DMCA takedown request with Google is straightforward. A copyright holder can go to https://support.google.com/legal/troubleshooter/1114905 and fill out the form.
Three Types of Copyright Infringers
In utilizing Google DMCA takedown requests to attack copyright infringing counterfeiters, you should decide which type to go after first:
2) SEO parasites
3) Copyright infringing knock off producers
1.1) The counterfeiters not only republish your photos on their sites, they also utilize your brand name and style numbers. They are the most damaging to your brand, because they create the perception that your products are available for cheap prices and that you are responsible for their shoddy workmanship when they generate a sale.
2.1) The SEO parasites utilize your photography and model/style numbers. They knock off your products and gain search engine traffic from searches on your style numbers, but do not use your brand name.
3.1) The copyright infringing knock off producers use your photography. They are particularly problematic when they are aggressively buying Google Adwords Ads, as they can afford to buy their way to the top of search engines due to not having design or photography costs and by producing shoddy merchandise using cheap materials and production shortcuts.
Defensive and Offensive Tactics for Attacking Copyright Infringers
My definition of a defensive tactic for attacking the copyright infringers is one that focuses primarily on eliminating webpages from Google's index produced by the copyright infringers that utilize your photography, brand name and/or style numbers.This tactic involves conducting the following types of searches to find URL's to be included in DMCA reports:
In some categories, there are a number of SEO parasites that do not use your brand name, but do use your photography and model numbers, Thus, it is useful to use both types of searches indicated above both with and without your brand name..
In hunting for the counterfeiters, it's often feasible to manually sweep through the items in your product line by entering the style/model numbers into search engines and visually searching the first couple of results pages for counterfeits. At the very least, manufacturers should be sweeping through their best selling style numbers and eliminating the presence of counterfeiter's web pages via DMCA takedown requests.
The goal of offensive tactics is to either: 1) put a big damper on the quantity of search engine traffic received by a copyright infringer by going after keyword terms they rank well for, or 2) working to get the copyright infringer assigned a pirate penalty with the result being a site wide reduction in rankings.
1.1) Attack the copyright infringers search engine listings. If you come across a frequently searched term that a infringer ranks well for, and the page that ranks well includes numerous images stolen from you, it is feasible to get the page removed from the Google index. As examples, here are a couple of takedown requests that succeeded in getting copyright infringers removed from desirable search engine positions for competitive terms:
The 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 8th, and 14th photographs on this page can be viewed at the URLs below:
The photographs in the top left of the 1st row, middle of the 2nd row, and right hand column of the 3rd row can be viewed at the URLs below.
The term "girls pageant dresses" provides a great example of both the power and the weakness of Google DMCA takedown requests to reduce the infringers search engine traffic.
If you search on Google for "girls pageant dresses" and then cursor down to the bottom of the page, you will see that multiple pages of counterfeiters have been removed from the index. A couple of the infringers were actually ranking higher than our firm's page was ranking on the search engine results page prior to filing the DMCA's.
On the other hand it also demonstrates a weakness of filing Google DMCA takedown requests to go after search term rankings. The most visible of the counterfeiters has regained their position at the top of the page by buying their way back to the top via Adwords. However, profit margins get crushed when buying clicks as compared to generating traffic via high ranking organic listings. So, I consider this effort a success.
2.1) if your goal is to get an infringer assigned a domain wide pirate penalty, then it is appropriate to specifically search out their infringing terms that utilize your brand name or style numbers. File DMCA takedown requests that include multiple URLs of the counterfeiter. Find these URLs by inputting the following into the Google search box
site:counterfeitername.com "your band name"
site:counterfeitername.com "your model number" short descriptive term
There is evidence that egregious infringers get assigned site wide copyright pirate penalties if a sufficient quantity of DMCA takedown requests are forwarded to Google, as reported in this post on my anecdotal experience in getting a site assigned "pirate" status.
3.1) Go after the worst of the copyright infringers, particularly those that are buying Adwords, by adding your requests to those that have been filed by producers of similar products. Pile on top of their copyright takedown requests . Use Googles transparency reports to find out which other copyright holders have been filing DMCA takedown requests against egregious copyright infringes. Then use the search function (it's on the lower left hand side of the trasparency rreports) to find other copyright infringers that are accumulating lots of DMCA takedown requests
My efforts to combine spam reports with DMCA takedown requests have not yielded much impact. Unless the spamming is providing a terrible user experience, spam reports against copyright infringing counterfeiters seem to go off into oblivion. However there is a notable exception. A spam report filed against a site with "communiondress" in their domain name that had copied the photo shown on the left seems have generated a big response. I am guessing that a real human read the report, because asking the question "what kind of communion does someone attend wearing this dress to ?" seems to have worked. Sadly, this success represents a sample size of one, but seems to indicate at least one spam report checker at Google has a sense of humor.
While filing Google DMCA takedown requests certainly won't stop the counterfeiters, it is an effective method of reducing the search engine traffic to pages featuring stolen images. It provides the benefit of reducing the exposure of the copyright infringer's websites.
The counterfeiters can certainly circumvent the impact of DMCA takedown requests by: 1) spawning similar new pages after Google has deleted a page with copyrighted images from the index; 2) replacing the stolen photo with their own proprietary photography, or 3) buying their way to the top of the search engine results pages through pay-per-click advertising. Yet while these methods of circumventing DMCA requests result in Google takedowns not being a silver bullet for fighting counterfeiters, it does not invalidate this tactic. Google DMCA takedown requests are an effective method of reducing search engine traffic to the counterfeiters.
Further, the power of DMCA takedown requests can be multiplied if a sufficient quantity of DMCA requests are forwarded to Google. There is a possibility that the infringing site(s) will be categorized as "pirate" sites by Google, and suffer serious ranking penalties.
It may be appropriate for retailers to request that their vendors keep them from being undercut on perceived price by copyright infringing counterfeiters. If you are a retailer, and only a limited number of your vendors in a category that is victimized by counterfeiting are forwarding Google DMCA takedown requests, then you are at risk of having your customers exposed to the counterfeiters. A mass effort by all the product producers with proprietary photography is likely to deter some counterfeiters from stealing images due to the impact it would have on their capability to be found on Google.
It certainly cannot hurt a retailer to ask their vendors to protect their brands from counterfeiters via Google DMCA takedown requests. And in categories like fashion, where the Google index is infested with counterfeiters, it might be appropriate for retailers to consider reducing the presence on their websites of the vendors that are not protecting their brands from counterfeiting via the simple to implement tactic of filing DMCA takedown requests.