The U.S. fashion industry is bedeviled by counterfeiters. On almost a weekly basis, I talk to a fashion retailer that is having trouble keeping their doors open due to the sales lost to counterfeiters. This is a particularly severe problem for prom dress retailers. A common occurrence is for a teenage girl to come into their boutique, look at a $500 dress, and then "showroom" the boutique by going online, where they can find a photo of the exact same dress and buy it for $150. Of course, the result of buying a $150 special occasion dress from an offshore retailer is fairly similar to that of buying a $150 "rolex" from a New York street peddler. When the dress arrives, if it does arrive, there are lots of tears flowing from the naive teenager buyer who wanted a special dress for her once in a lifetime experience of going to prom. And the retailer has lost out on a sale.
I am absolutely certain that no Google engineer wakes up in the morning and thinks "hmmm, what can I do today to hurt the business of U.S. fashion designers and retailers?". However, the Google search engine results pages are so thoroughly infested with links to counterfeiters that the impact is the same as if there was intent. There are literally thousands of webpages on the Internet published by counterfeiters featuring images copied from fashion designers and/or scraped from the sites of their authorized retailers.
A search for the best selling style of fashion designer Mac Duggal provides a good example of counterfeiters getting listings on Google. Conduct a search for "61041R dress" https://www.google.com/search?q=61041r+dress
) Cursor down to the bottom of the search engine results page, and you will see a notice in italics indicating that a result has been removed from the first page of the search rankings. A check of the 2nd and 3rd page of the search results shows that numerous more infringing pages had obtained fairly high rankings on Google.
Another example of the ubiquity of infringing pages within the Google index is provided by a search for "6149M dress". As shown in a DMCA request recently filed, we found 28 infringing webpages on 23 unique domains. And the 28 infringing webpages were new ones in addition to 6 pages that Mac Duggal had gotten removed in the past.
One of the methods a content publisher can use to fight counterfeiters' unauthorized copying of images is to file Google DMCA copyright takedown requests
. Google is very responsive to DMCA copyright takedown requests. If a content publisher finds a webpage featuring an unauthorized use of of their images on a webpage that is included within Google's index, they can respond by filing a DMCA takedown request. Within about 10 days of filing the DMCA request, Google will remove the infringing page.
A problem with filing DMCA requests is that the counterfeiters and scrapers can create webpages faster than I can file requests to get them taken down (hello summer interns). Thus, it becomes much more than just an academic issue to try and determine what it takes to get an infringing website classified as a copyright pirate
by Google. The goal is to get all the webpages from the infringing site assigned ranking penalties, rather than just removing single pages at a time from Google's index.
Given that the most successful website at getting high rankings for webpages featuring counterfeit versions of Mac Duggal designer dresses
just suffered a massive reduction in rankings for searches on the specific style numbers of our dresses, it would be instructive to suss out what led to to the ranking penalty.
One of the biggest challenges with trying to get a handle on the Google
algorithm is that it is so easy to confuse correlation with causation. In this case, Mac Duggal filed DMCA requests http://www.google.com/transparencyreport /removals/copyright/domains/dhgate.com/
that included the URL's of over 1,000 webpages from this domain that included infringing images.. Given that 1,000 is such a nice round number, it would make life simpler if we could use this as a rule of thumb for reducing the exposure via search of the websites of the counterfeiters that steal our images.
However, the ranking penalty could be the result of the infringing site:
1) running afoul of Google's Webmaster guidelines. The rankings penalty might not have anything to do with our DMCA requests.
2) the penalty could be due to the weight of all the DMCA's takedown request filled against the infringing site, As shown on the Google Transparency report, Oasis Costume has requested even more takedowns than we have, and lots of other content publishers have filed DMCA takedown requests.
3) The total number of DMCA requests could be a factor
4) The ratio of URL's in DMCA takedown requests to pages on the infringing site could be a factor
5) Google may have a range of quantitative and qualitative factors they utilize in assigning pirate penalties.
6) the spam reports we filed against the infringing site may have played a role
So in conclusion, we don't know why Google assigned the ranking penalty, but our submission of DMCA's requesting the takedown of 1,000 URL's may have been a factor. Given this discovery, counterfeiters beware, because if you steal our images, Mac Duggal LLC will file DMCA's requesting the takedown of the first 1,000 pages featuring our images you are able to get indexed by Google.
Since this post was written, I've filed requests for takedowns of an additional 10,000 URL's on over 400 copyright infringing websites. It seems like it takes Google 2-4 months from the time that a critical mass of takedown requests are submitted until a pirate ranking penalty is applied. And while DHGate has been hit with a ranking penalty, the site still occasionally shows up on Page 2 of searches for specific Mac Duggal styles.
Still attempting to determine how many takedown requests required to reach critical mass, but it seems to be 100-200 URL's for a recently created website that has only a limited number of backlinks. And even after the significant effort required to request the takedown of 100+ URL's, it seems to require at least 2-4 months until any sort of ranking pirate penalty is implemented. So a copyright infringing website has months of opportunity to rip off consumers before they are likely to get hit with a pirate penalty.
On a related note, Google Shopping takedown requests are extremely effective. Filing either a web search and or an image search DMCA often seems like the equivalent of going into battle with a sniper rifle, whereas a DMCA Shopping takedown request is a neutron bomb. The result of a Google Shopping takedown request is often domain wide eradication from Google shopping within 48 hours.