Finding a website using your photographs without your authorization can be a distressing situation. Luckily, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 helps to protect individuals who have had their intellectual properties stolen on the web. Today, we are taking a look at the protection provided by the DMCA and how you can file a takedown request with a site infringing upon your copyright.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was introduced in the House of Representatives by Howard Coble in 1997; it aimed at protecting copyright in a new age of digital information. The bill focused on criminalizing the act of circumventing digital rights management while adding on new intellectual property protection. On October 28, 1998, President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law, amending the original Copyright Act of 1976.
In particular, we will be focusing on a part of the DMCA called the ‘Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act.’ This part of the law shields Internet service providers from being sued for infringement acts carried out by those renting space on their servers. In order to remain protected, however, they must comply with certain rules such as responding to takedown requests.
While the DMCA is a piece of American copyright law, the act implements treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organization, and its practices may be applicable elsewhere around the globe. For the purposes of this article, however, we will be focusing on its specific use case for website servers hosted within the United States.
If you identify one of your photographs being used without authorization, the first step is to properly identify the website in question. Before we can file a DMCA takedown request, we must find out where the server is hosted geographically. If the server is hosted within the United States, then we can proceed with confidence. Otherwise, you can still file a DMCA takedown request, but the results will be dependent upon the country from which the website is hosted.
Crafting a DMCA Takedown Request
Before we begin, it is important to know that within the United States, the Fair Use Limitation allows the precise use of copyrighted material without permission. Fair Use is dependent upon a number of different conditions. For more information on fair usage provided by the United States Copyright Office, you can click here.
In this example, we will be using ‘www.google.com’ as the infringing web address for educational purposes. It should be noted that if you happened to find one of your photographs on a search engine, such as Google or Bing, you should instead contact the website hosting the photo itself. Search engines simply discovered content hosted by other websites and are protected under the Fair Usage Act mentioned above.
To find out exactly where a website is hosted, we will be using ICANN WHOIS to look up registration information for domains. Simply input the domain in question, in this case www.google.com, and then hit the ‘Lookup’ button. A variety of information will be presented; we are most interested in the ‘Registrar’ info. An ‘abuse contact email’ or another form of contact information should be available.
To speed up the process, you can attempt to search the web for the registrar’s dedicated copyright infringement department. Not all registrars will have such a department, but if they do, it can decrease the time needed for your takedown request to be processed.
Now that we know where we are going to send a DMCA takedown request, we must craft the email. According to the act, our letter must include a number of crucial details, including our personal contact information, the name and address of the photo being stolen, a statement noting that we had not authorized the use of our content, a statement that the information we are stating is accurate, a statement that we are the authorized copyright owner, and a signature.
Here’s an example DMCA takedown request available from the Museum of Fine Arts (you can download it for your own use):
The Final Results
Once we send the email to the appropriate address, the Internet service provider should remove the content from their servers within a reasonable amount of time (it should be no longer than a few weeks.) It should be noted that the person infringing upon your copyright may submit a counter-notice indicating that the photograph should not have been removed. At this point, the ISP must legally replace the content it initially took down. Unfortunately, if you wish to continue from this stage, you must file a lawsuit in court.
If you find your photo being used online without your permission, a DMCA takedown can often help you get the content removed at the source. As long as the web host complies and the offender doesn’t put up a fight, this is one way you can take back control of your photos online.