Take Action When Your Work Is Stolen: The DMCA Takedown Notice
You’ve put hours of time and effort creating compelling content for your blog. You’ve researched sources, edited drafts, and polished prose. It’s the perfect piece to drive traffic to your website.
Then, in a few clicks, a thief has copy-and-pasted it to another site. All your hard work, rendered worthless in an instant. Do you have a remedy?
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) provides a straightforward solution: the takedown notice. No lawyer required.
Your Rights Under the DMCA
A DMCA takedown notice is a letter (via email or an online form) you send to an service provider (like the server hosting the content, WordPress.com, or YouTube). You inform the service provider of the unauthorized use and it takes down your content.
The DMCA provides a “safe harbor” for service providers. The service provider itself won’t be liable for copyright infringement – so long as it quickly responds to the takedown notice. Therefore, it has a strong incentive to take action.
Note that copyright doesn’t apply only to professional books or movies. It covers many different types of works, including text, videos, images, and more. That means that your blog post, infographic, and YouTube video are protected.
Nor do you need to register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office to claim ownership. You secure copyright protection automatically “upon creation.” Publishing your blog post on your website is enough.
Building a Case
In the notice, you must state that you have a “good faith belief” that the use of your material is unauthorized. So do some investigating beforehand. Use a service like Copyscape or Grammarly to find cases of unauthorized use.
You’ll want to take screenshots of the unauthorized use in case the offender pulls down the content. Also, take note of file size or other information that allows the service provider to identify the copyrighted material.
Finally, make sure the unauthorized use is actually unauthorized. Certain uses of copyrighted material are “fair use” and legal. Fair use doctrine can get complicated, but these uses include purposes such as criticism, news, or parody.
The DMCA Takedown Notice
The DMCA requires a takedown notice (a “notification of claimed infringement” in the DMCA’s language) to include certain items:
- Identification of your copyrighted work;
- Identification of the unauthorized use, along with enough information for the service provider to locate it (like the URL or file name);
- A statement that you have a “good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner” (basically, that you’re not using the notice to harass);
- A statement that you’ve given correct information in the notice, “and under penalty of perjury, that the complaining party [you] is authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed” (if you’re writing your own takedown notice, this of course will be true);
- Your contact information;
- Your signature (which can be electronic).
Remember, the takedown notice goes to the service provider, not the actual user who posted your content. You can find the service provider’s contact information with a quick Google search, in the Copyright Office’s directory, or through a WHOIS lookup. Many service providers provide an online form for DMCA complaints, like this one from Automattic, Inc., owner of WordPress.com.
The DMCA requires service providers to respond “expeditiously” to a takedown notice. It usually happens within 72 hours, but the DMCA doesn’t impose a deadline. Sufficiently identify your content and location of the unauthorized use, and it shouldn’t take long for the service provider to respond.
The user can file a counter-notice if he or she disagrees with your notice. Building a good case makes this unlikely. However, there have been arguments against takedown notices in court, relying on fair use.
In 2007, Universal sent a takedown notice to YouTube over this 30-second clip of a dancing baby with a Prince song in the background. The user issued a counter-notice and eventually sued Universal for misrepresentation. The court ruled that a copyright owner must consider fair use before sending a takedown notice, and now we can continue to enjoy that video in all its glory.
Your claim is probably just a bit more credible than Universal’s, so it’s doubtful you’ll get taken to court over a takedown notice. But it’s still important to consider fair use before sending.
Finally, remember that the DMCA doesn’t apply worldwide. The DMCA is a U.S. law that applies only to service providers (not necessarily the user) physically in the U.S. Many countries (including the EU) have similar laws; however, service providers in countries like China or Russia often ignore takedown requests.
In that case, you can file a DMCA takedown notice with search engines like Google. This option won’t get the content itself taken down, but it won’t be listed in searches any more.
A DMCA takedown notice is a quick and effective way to protect your work. You don’t need to hire a lawyer to send one, you can find many free templates online (but make sure the template includes the required items), and service providers tend to respond quickly. Don’t let your hard work go uncredited.
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