You’re a published author (if you’re not in real life, then just pretend and go along with it). You’re basking in the glow of success, and you decide to type the name of your book into Google to see if it’s gotten yet another stellar review. As you scroll down the search results, you see a website you don’t recognize. You click on it…to find yourself on a bootleg site, where you book is being offered as a free download.
You don’t have to be a published author to imagine what this scene feels like. Authors, and creative people in general, spend a lot of time and effort to create their artistic works, with the hope that those works will earn them enough money to turn their skills into a career. Today’s technology makes it ridiculously easy for a consumer to turn around and either sell those works or give them away for free. What’s an author to do?
Fortunately, Congress thought of this issue in the early days of the Internet, and they passed a law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA for short). The DMCA sets down rules for how to deal with copyrights in the digital age. The one that you, the beleaguered author, care about is the rule requiring service providers (a.k.a. website owners, domain hosts, search engines, etc.) to take down infringing content, once they are properly notified by the owner of the infringed-upon copyright. If the service provider wants to avoid a lawsuit from said copyright owner, then they must take down the infringing content as soon as possible. Here’s how it works in practical terms:
- You, the outraged author, draft what’s known as a “DMCA takedown notice.” You can find the requirements for this notice in 17 U.S.C. Section 512(c)(3), or you can just search for “DMCA takedown notice” on the Internet and take your pick of the templates offered there.
- You then scour the website for information on where to send this notice, and who to send it to. Websites are required to have this, but if you can’t find it you can also look it up on the Copyright Office’s directory at https://dmca.copyright.gov/osp/
- You send your notice to the email and/or physical address on file. The DMCA doesn’t specify how long they have to take down the content, but it must be done “expeditiously.”
In most cases, that will be the end of the story. The content will be taken down, and you can be free to chase down any other infringers posting your content online. There are some occasions where you might run into trouble. Sometimes the service provider’s legal department will decide this is not a copyright infringement issue and will refuse to take it down. Other times the person who posted the content (who is always notified of the takedown), will object and file a counter-notification. Under the DMCA, the service provider is then required to put the content back up in 10 days unless you go to court for an injunction. Most of the time, though, it’s easier for everyone to just take the content down and keep it off. Of course, that doesn’t stop infringers from re-posting the content elsewhere, leading to a fun game of whack-a-mole. If you find yourself dealing with one of these infringers, or run into trouble submitting your DMCA notices, it’s best to talk to a lawyer. If you want that lawyer to be me, you can reach me at email@example.com.