Google: Another Unfair Allegation and You Are Probably Sorry

July 10, 2024

Just as some thought Google was finally playing nice with content rightsholders, a group of textbook publishers begs to differ—in court. TorrentFreak reports, “Google ‘Profits from Pirated Textbooks’ Publishers’ Lawsuit Claims.” The claimants accuse Google of not only ignoring textbook pirates in search results, but of actively promoting them to line its own coffers. Writer Andy Maxwell quotes the complaint:

“’Of course, Google’s Shopping Ads for Infringing Works … do not use photos of the pirates’ products; rather, they use unauthorized photos of the Publishers’ own textbooks, many of which display the Marks. Thus, with Infringing Shopping Ads, this “strong sense of the product” that Google is giving is a bait-and-switch,’ the complaint alleges.”

The complaint emphasizes Google actively creates, ranks, and targets ads for pirated products. It also assesses the quality of advertised sites. It is fishy, then, that infringing works often rank before or near ads for the originals.

In case one is still willing to give Google the benefit of the doubt, the complaint lists several reasons the company should know better. There are the sketchy site names like “Cheapbok,” and “Biz Ninjas.” Then there are the unrealistically low prices. A semester’s worth of textbooks should break the bank; that is just part of the college experience. Perhaps even more damning is Google’s own assertion it verifies sellers’ identities. The write-up continues:

“[The publishers] claim that verification means Google has the ability to communicate with sellers via email or verified phone numbers. In cases where Google was advised that a seller was offering pirated content and Google users were still able to place orders after clicking an ad, ‘Google had the ability to stop the direct infringement entirely.’ In the majority of cases where pirate sellers predominantly or exclusively use Google Ads to reach their customer base, terminating their accounts would’ve had a significant impact on future sales.”

No doubt. Publishers have tried to address the issue through Google’s stated process of takedown notices to no avail. In fact, they allege, the company is downright hostile to any that push the issue. We learn:

“When the publishers sent follow-up notices for matters previously reported but not handled to their satisfaction, ‘Google threatened on multiple occasions to stop reviewing all the Publishers’ notices for up to six months,’ the complaint alleges. Google’s response was due to duplicate requests; the company warned that if that happened three or more times on the same request, it would ‘consider that particular request to be manifestly unfounded’ which could lead the company to ‘temporarily stop reviewing your requests for a period of up to 180 days.’”

Ah, corporate logic. Will Google’s pirate booty be worth the legal headaches? The textbook publishers bringing suit include Cengage Learning, Macmillan Learning, Macmillan Holdings, LLC; Elsevier Inc., Elsevier B.V., and McGraw Hill LLC. The complaint was filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Cynthia Murrell, July 10, 2024


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