Google has filed a lawsuit against individuals believed to be residing in Vietnam, accusing them of abusing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to remove competitors' websites from search results. The foreign defendants allegedly used 65 Google accounts to submit thousands of fraudulent copyright infringement notices against over 117,000 third-party website URLs. In addition, another 500,000 URLs were targeted. This scheme forced Google to investigate and respond to the fraudulent takedown requests, resulting in the removal of legitimate content from competitors. The lawsuit aims to deter further abuse of copyright takedown processes, highlighting vulnerabilities in Google's system.
Impersonation and Financial Losses: The Defendants' Tactics
The defendants, Nguyen Van Duc and Pham Van Thien, along with 20 unidentified individuals, are accused of impersonating prominent figures and organizations, including Elon Musk, Amazon, Twitter, and more, in their fraudulent takedown notices. In one instance, they claimed to represent Elon Musk over a t-shirt with the text "Pharmacy Technician." Their most damaging series of takedown requests led to revenue losses of over $5 million for a Google customer during the 2022 holiday season. Google had to reinstate the targeted URLs after discovering the fraudulent activity.
DMCA Vulnerabilities and Google's Legal Action
Google's lawsuit sheds light on the potential for fraudsters to manipulate Google's response to DMCA notices. The DMCA relies on the honesty and good faith of copyright claimants, putting the onus on service providers like Google to trust the assertions made in takedown requests. Google uses a combination of manual review and automation to verify whether takedown requests meet DMCA requirements but does not independently verify the content's infringement status. The lawsuit accuses the defendants of misrepresentation, breach of contract, and intentional interference with contractual relations. Google seeks damages, court costs, and an injunction to prevent further fraudulent activity.
This legal action by Google underscores the importance of addressing vulnerabilities in the DMCA process and protecting legitimate online content from wrongful removal.