What you NEED to know about the DMCA

The DMCA, or Digital Millennium Copyright Act, provides you as a website owner with a useful hammer you can use to beat on copyright infringers.

As a content producer, you have the right to enforce your copyright. When your content gets “re-purposed” on other’s websites without your permission, you can file a DMCA Infringement Notification to the infringer’s web hosting provider and get that infringer’s website shut down (like Ian McAnerin did recently). In DMCA legalspeak, this notification is also known as a “Takedown Notice”. In addition, you can get the naughty infringer de-listed from Google and other engines. (I can hear you saying “Ex-cellent!” in a Mr. Burns voice right now).

It is not a daunting procedure. It might take an hour of your time, and it is well worth it.

Here’s what to do…

  1. First, look up the web host and the domain registrar of the offending site, using lookup tools such as this one from Netcraft and this one from Domain Tools. You can usually ascertain who the web host is from the Name Servers and/or the Netblock Owner.
  2. Next, check the official directory of designated DMCA agents for the host and the registrar. (Hopefully they’re listed!)
  3. Then you prepare a letter to send to the designated agent of the web host. The notice you write should include: your contact information, the name of the content that was copied, the web address of the copied content, a statement that you have a good faith belief that the material is not legal, a statement that under penalty of perjury you are the copyright holder, and your signature. Some web hosts will allow you to email your notice to them, making it all that more convenient.
  4. Also be sure to send a similar notification to the seach engines. That will cut off their air supply, in case the site doesn’t get taken down right away. Here are instructions and contact details for each engine: Google, Yahoo! and Windows Live Search (formerly MSN Search). Note that Google requires you to mail or fax your letter, whereas Yahoo and Microsoft (Live Search) both allow you to email your notification.
  5. If the web host doesn’t take the site down promptly, then submit a DMCA notice to the infringer’s domain registrar. Note: It might be worth sending a notice to the data center that the web host uses before you try the registrar, as Dan Richard recommends.

Ian McAnerin posted some handy DMCA notification letter templates to make this process even easier: for the web host, for Google, for Yahoo, and for Live Search.

Then there’s the other end of the stick, where someone could use DMCA unfairly against you! It happens. Competitors do use the DMCA to silence competitors. You, as a website owner, need to protect yourself from unwarranted (or at least unwelcome!) prosecution. If the potential exists for you to inadvertently host infringing material on your website(s) — for example if you are hosting online forums, group blogs, blog comments, or other types of content that can be submitted from others besides yourself — then here are some actions you can take to help protect yourself…

  1. It’s helpful if you can qualify as a service provider that can be covered under the Safe Harbor provision. For example, you may qualify if you offer a search engine or a bulletin board system.
  2. If so, notify your customers of your policies regarding copyright infringement and the consequences of repeated infringing activity. One way of achieving this is by making it part of your Terms of Use.
  3. Also, publish a page on your website with DMCA filing instructions and state that, if and when you get a DMCA notification, you will act on it. Here’s an example of such a DMCA Notification Instructions page.
  4. And most important, check the directory of designated agents, and if your company isn’t listed there, complete and file this form to the Copyright Office for inclusion in the directory.

If you’re interested in the gory details of the DMCA, you can read this.

Disclaimer: none of this is legal advice.