On Wednesday, attorney Marty Singer slammed Google in a letter that threatened a lawsuit with at least $100 million in damages for allegedly facilitating the posting of hacked nude photos.
Although Singer was silent about exactly who he was representing, records of takedown requests indicate he's challenging Google's conduct on behalf of Jennifer Lawrence, Kirsten Dunst, Kate Upton and other stars. According to Singer, Google isn't abiding by its responsibilities under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to expeditiously remove owned images on platforms that include YouTube and Blogspot nor is it being diligent about the URLs in its search engine.
A Google spokesperson has provided an official response:
"We've removed tens of thousands of pictures -- within hours of the requests being made -- and we have closed hundreds of accounts. The Internet is used for many good things. Stealing people’s private photos is not one of them."
Google says that it is removing photos because they represent violations of its community guidelines with respect to nudity and privacy violations. The web giant says its turnaround is generally hours, not weeks.
As for search, Google says it has historically taken a different approach — removing items when they receive valid copyright notices.
The key word there is "valid," as Google could be making extra scrutiny when determining the validity of a copyright claim. For example, if Justin Verlander sends a takedown request of a Kate Upton "selfie," Google could be determining that it's Upton — and not Verlander — who has the authority to come forward.
There are other considerations including possible fair use that come into play, and generally, platforms like YouTube have allowed counter-notices to copyright claims. Whatever the reasons, Google is not acting sufficiently in Singer's mind.
Interestingly, some of the most on-point case law on what search engines must do is provided by Google's battles with Perfect10 over thumbnail images of nude photos. An appeals court rejected any direct copyright infringement claim but left open the possibility of contributory liability if a defendant had knowledge of another's infringing materials and materially contributes to or induces that infringement.
It's a case that Singer is surely aware of after litigating a linking to of Quentin Tarantino's leaked script earlier this year.