How Microsoft’s Copyright Claim Went Awry

A June request to take down pages suspected of copyright infringement apparently misfired, targeting pages from Wikipedia, the BBC, The Huffington Post, AMC Theaters and more.

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The Windows 8 software homepage is displayed on tablet devices at the Microsoft Corp. Windows 8 software consumer preview event at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012.

Microsoft was just trying to stop a leak.

With the software giant’s Windows 8 on the cusp of being released (it’s slated to appear this month), the company was doing its best to prevent the unauthorized distribution of a beta version of the software through leaks and torrents. To do that, as is common practice under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), Microsoft asked Google to block hundreds of search results that might have linked to copyright-infringing material.

Generally, these requests are automated; a computer program monitors the Internet for keywords and other markers linked to unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material. And as with any automated system, occasionally things go awry. That’s what apparently happened with a series of Microsoft filings from earlier this summer, as a recently discovered, 892-item legal notice from July shows. While the bulk of Microsoft’s claims are legitimate, according to Boing Boing, nearly half of the 65 “infringing” web pages that Google was asked to remove from its search results have nothing to do with Windows 8 or anything remotely related to Microsoft.

(MORE: Paul Allen Reviews Windows 8)

According to the copyright monitoring clearinghouse Chilling Effects, the web pages that Microsoft asked Google to block include AMC Theatres’ listing for The Dark Knight Rises, stories from the BBC and BuzzFeed, a CNN story on Jerry Sandusky, a Huffington Post article on Mitt Romney, TechCrunch, film review site Rotten Tomatoes, the Washington Post, a Wikipedia entry for Britain’s Got Talent, and even the U.S. Government. (Ironically, prior DMCA misfires have resulted in Microsoft asking Google to censor results from their own search engine, Bing.)

How did this happen? TorrentFreak surveyed the filings and thinks it has something to do with the number 45 — as most of the putatively infringing URLs had a 45 somewhere in them. Microsoft’s automated copyright monitoring system may have been targeting URLs with that number because it somehow relates to Microsoft’s new software system Windows 8. What that connection might be remains unclear.

Google used some common sense and ignored requests related to a few of the domains, such as the BBC and Wikipedia. However, according to TorrentFreak, pages from several sites — including AMC Theaters and RealClearPolitics — were still unavailable through Google search Monday. The sites are now back in the search engine’s results.

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