Is Google about to be hit with a major new lawsuit for linking to copyright infringing songs?

A UK trade group representing more than 300 record companies including UMG, Sony and Warner Bros. has sent Google a takedown notice demanding it remove links to 17 songs from artists such as Eminem, Usher, Ke$ha, Christina Aguilera and the "Glee" cast. In the letter, the group lists 38 search queries that direct users to infringing material on third-party websites.

Last week, Google successfully backed down a tiny record label that had made a similar claim. In that dispute, a Florida based label claimed Google was facilitating copyright infringement by helping to prop up a website allegedly acting as a "distribution center for unlawful copies" of music. The lawsuit was withdrawn, leaving Google's liability on the matter unsettled.

The latest takedown notice puts Google in tricky situation — remove links to those 17 songs and create a precedent for copyright holders to send more takedown notices, or do nothing and face a lawsuit.
In the latest notice, the British Recorded Music Industry ("BPI") lists various ways that users get to copyrighted songs. Examples include searching on Google for "eminem not afraid rapidshare," "ke$ha your love is my drug free mp3," and "glee cast i dreamed a dream free download."

BPI says those terms give Google users directions to infringing site locations.

Google doesn't directly host any copyright infringing songs, and some of those terms are rather generic, but the demand letter could still lead the way to a major new lawsuit.

Previously, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals evaluated Google's liability for indexing and linking to copyrighted content. In Perfect 10 v. Google, the appeals court gave Google a pass on direct infringement but left unsettled questions about secondary liability.

It's worth noting that the newest takedown letter emanates from the UK. Recently, the country has been debating a "Digital Economy Act" that requires ISPs to do more to counter copyright infringement. Early drafts of the bill immunize search engines like Google from liability, but the legislation isn't written in stone yet. An explicit fair use protection, such as the one that has helped shield Google from claims from copyright holders in the U.S., doesn't exist currently in UK law.

We've reached out to Google about whether they plan to comply with the latest takedown demand and will update if we hear anything.

Here is a copy of the takedown letter that was sent to Google.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboardbiz

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