Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

Getty Images | Alexander Koerner

Google Play has reversed its latest ban on a web browser that keeps getting targeted by vague Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notices. Downloader, an Android TV app that combines a browser with a file manager, was restored to Google Play last night.

Downloader, made by app developer Elias Saba, was suspended on Sunday after a DMCA notice submitted by copyright-enforcement firm MarkScan on behalf of Warner Bros. Discovery. It was the second time in six months that Downloader was suspended based on a complaint that the app’s web browser is capable of loading websites.

The first suspension in May lasted three weeks, but Google reversed the latest one much more quickly. As we wrote on Monday, the MarkScan DMCA notice didn’t even list any copyrighted works that Downloader supposedly infringed upon.

Instead of identifying specific copyrighted works, the MarkScan notice said only that Downloader infringed on “Properties of Warner Bros. Discovery Inc.” In the field where a DMCA complainant is supposed to provide an example of where someone can view an authorized example of the work, MarkScan simply entered the main Warner Bros. URL:

DMCA notice was incomplete

Google has defended its DMCA-takedown process by saying that, under the law, it is obligated to remove any content when a takedown request contains the elements required by the copyright law. But in this case, Google Play removed Downloader even though the DMCA takedown request didn’t identify a copyrighted work—one of the elements required by the DMCA.

That’s probably why Downloader’s latest suspension was reversed more quickly than the previous one. But the incident raises questions about whether Google will do anything to prevent repeated suspensions of apps wrongly targeted by vague or bogus DMCA notices.

Google didn’t respond to a request for comment sent before our story on Monday was published. Warner Bros. also did not respond to a request for comment.

Downloader’s first suspension in May came after several Israeli TV companies complained that the app could be used to load a pirate website. In that case, an appeal that Saba filed with Google Play was quickly rejected. He also submitted a DMCA counter-notice, which gave the complainant 10 business days to file a legal action.

Google takes “another look”

With the first takedown in May, Saba’s app was reinstated by Google after the DMCA complainant didn’t take any legal action within the 10-business-day period. He went through the same process this week, first filing an appeal with Google Play that was rejected in less than a half-hour and then filing a DMCA counter-notice.

Although the 10-business-day period triggered by the latest counter-notice has barely begun, someone at Google seems to have figured out that the suspension never should have happened in the first place. Saba received a message from Google last night that said the company had “taken another look” at his request and reinstated the app.

Saba still needed to republish the app to make it visible to users again. “I re-submitted the app last night in the Google Play Console, as instructed in the email, and it was approved and live a few hours later,” Saba told Ars today.

In a new blog post, Saba wrote that he expected the second suspension to last a few weeks, just like the first did. He speculated that it was reversed more quickly this time because the latest DMCA notice “provided no details as to how my app was infringing on copyrighted content, which, I believe, allowed Google to invalidate the takedown request.”

“Of course, I wish Google bothered to toss out the meritless DMCA takedown request when it was first submitted, as opposed to after taking ‘another look,’ but I understand that Google is probably flooded with invalid takedown requests because the DMCA is flawed,” Saba wrote. “I’m just glad Google stepped in when it did and I didn’t have to go through the entire DMCA counter notice process. The real blame for all of this goes to Warner Bros. Discovery and other corporations for funding companies like MarkScan which has issued DMCA takedowns in the tens of millions.”

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