DMCA: An Indepth Guide to Protection, Procedures and Takedowns

When it comes to security, it’s not only your website that needs protection – the content on your website is pretty vulnerable, too. It takes a certain amount of skill, knowledge, and expertise for someone to hack into your website, not so much though, to steal your content.

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Protecting the content you publish on your site is incredibly important. But what do you do when you find instances of plagiarism? How do you handle unauthorized use of your content? Enter the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) – a solution accessible by practically any victim of copyright infringement.

In this post, we will cover what you, as a content owner, must do if you find that someone’s stolen your content. What obligations publishers have to avoid contravening the DMCA and what to do if you receive a DMCA notice. But before we begin, let’s go over the basics of the DMCA.

What is the DMCA?

Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a law of the United States that came into effect in October 1998. This law penalizes the attempt of infringing on the Digital Rights of copyrighted work in addition to the production and distribution of software that is designed to do such a task. The law also provides a safe harbor for certain online service providers (OSPs) including Internet service providers (ISPs) from copyright infringement penalties.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with legal jargon, DMCA is a law that helps protect your content from being stolen. If someone steals, plagiarizes, or harvests credit for your content in any way, then DMCA protection can help you take it down.

While it can be very helpful in reclaiming your rightful intellectual property, the DMCA remains, to this day, a controversial law as it can act as a double-edged sword. There have been a few notable cases of DMCA abuse. For this reason, we’ll also take a look at some easy steps you can follow if you’re wrongfully issued a DMCA takedown notice (but more on that later).

How DMCA Works and Its Limitations

DMCA protection applies to all types of content – text, images, audio, videos – and if you are the creator of the content, it rightfully belongs to you.

Regularly checking the web for unauthorized use of your content and taking necessary steps to get credit for your work or have the material removed entirely is important. If you find that someone has uploaded your content on a website without your permission then you can file a DMCA to issue a takedown notice to the Internet service provider that’s hosting the website. DMCA takedown services help you file your notice and some even take down your stolen content for a fee.

At this point it’s important to note that there are a handful of artefacts that don’t fall under the DMCA umbrella. For instance, you cannot file DMCA complaints over things like names, ideas, looks, or contesting trademarks.

In addition to this, DMCA is a law of the United States – it doesn’t apply to servers outside the country. That is not to say, however, that you won’t find DMCA equivalent laws upheld by other nations. To name a few, Australia, New Zealand, India, and many European countries have their own copyright protection laws for digital content. While the law itself may be a bit different in each country, there is still a high chance of successfully taking down your stolen content even if the infringing site is hosted on a server outside the United States.

There are also cases in which others can use your content without your permission if it falls under fair use.  With this in mind, let’s first round up the cases where DMCA is not applicable.

A Note on Fair Use Policy and the DMCA Safe Harbor

There is a legal mechanism that allows some form of limited use of your content by another entity. It’s known as the fair use policy.

Fair use is a US legal doctrine that permits limited use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission from the rights holders. – Wikipedia

In simple English, fair use allows others to take your content without your permission and use it in a limited way. To illustrate with an example, suppose you publish an article stating your opinion on any subject. Another website takes parts of your article and publishes a criticism of your post. Depending on how they used your content, their use of your content may fall under fair use and hence not be subject to DMCA.

There are also certain safe harbors that DMCA provides to certain entities. These entities are usually Internet service providers, file sharing sites, and generally any website that encourages or allows users to publish content. Though these service providers are shielded by a safe harbor, they are still under obligation to take down any content that is infringing upon receiving a notice.

Why You Should Go for DMCA

A great reason to opt for a DMCA takedown in the case of copyright infringement is its accessibility factor. Anyone can protect their content or data through DMCA’s takedown services. It is easy to follow and usually yields quick results. The procedure itself is completely free of charge and does not require the content owner to hire an attorney or pay court fees.

One of the best things about it is that even if you don’t have a registered copyright you can still go for a DMCA takedown notice. DMCA protection covers any type of content that can be infringed online i.e. digital content that does not fall under fair use. This includes your personal data, content (images, audios, videos, etc.), and software.

To be clear, DMCA is strictly a method of protecting your content after it has been infringed. It provides no preemptive protection. That said you can always opt for getting a DMCA badge for your website which serves as a warning that may potentially discourage others from stealing your content. The badge provides a free professional takedown per year among other perks – not a bad thing to have when things go south.

What Is a DMCA Takedown Notice?

A DMCA takedown notice is a pretty standard document that you send to a company notifying them of the infringing nature of the content that they are hosting. The companies in question are usually the Internet service providers that are hosting the site such as Google, Yahoo, and other online service providers.

The notice contains five key elements:

  1. Name and contact information of the copyright owner.
  2. A signature of the copyright owner – can be either digital or physical.
  3. Proof of copyright ownership.
  4. Notice and identification of the infringing content.
  5. A statement of good faith that they believe the content to be a copyright infringement and that they did not provide permission for the content to be uploaded.

How to Issue a DMCA Takedown Notice

Now that we have a fair grasp of all matters DMCA, let’s take a look at how you can file and issue a DMCA takedown notice. There are effectively two options.

You can either use a service such as DMCA.com or manage it yourself, or if you are inclined to DIY the following process will help…

Step 1: Identify the Service Providers

Once you’ve found a site infringing your content, you need to start gathering information about that website. This includes:

  1. The hosting provider.
  2. Domain registrar.
  3. Internet service provider.
  4. Owner of the website.
  5. Any other relevant information or parties that may be involved in hosting that content.

Online tools like WHOis and DomainTools give you all the information you need. Though it isn’t necessary, taking screenshots of the infringing content is a good idea.

Step 2: Draft the DMCA Notice

Now that you’ve identified the service providers of the website, draft the DMCA takedown notice making sure that you mention the five key components mentioned earlier. There are several free templates available online for this purpose.

If you’d rather write one yourself then you’ll want to make sure that your notice contains all the elements of a properly formatted DMCA takedown notice. Here’s a list of the seven basic parts of the DMCA takedown notice:

  1. The subject of your notice.
  2. Your introduction.
  3. Explanation of why you’re sending the takedown notice.
  4. Provide proof of the copyright.
  5. The good faith statement.
  6. The perjury statement.
  7. Your signature and personal information.

DMCA.com has a comprehensive guide to help you draft a DMCA takedown notice by yourself.

Step 3: Notify the Service Providers

Send the DMCA protection notice to the Internet service provider that is hosting the site infringing your content. If they fail to remove the content within a reasonable amount of time then you can send the notice to the domain registrar of the offending site. You can also notify the search engine providers – Google, Microsoft, etc. – in order to stop the stream of visitors to the infringed content.

If all else fails, or if you don't have the time or inclination to work through this process yourself there are services (such as DMCA.com) that help take your content down for a fee.

How to Avoid Getting a DMCA Notice

Due to the flexibility of the law, you could be at the receiving end of a DMCA notice. This is not a pleasant proposition and can be avoided by following a few simple steps. Apart from the obvious (don’t steal other people’s content!), if you have to use part of the content created by another person, make sure to do so within fair use. It is also a good idea to ask for permission from the content owner before using it.

Fair use policies differ for each platform and type of content, and there are other factors that come into play which are exclusive to their scenarios. It’s a good idea to do some research about the subject you suspect your content might infringe on before using it.

What to Do if You Get a DMCA Notice

If you receive a DMCA notice and feel that your content does not infringe on copyrights, there are a couple of things that you can do. First and foremost, it is highly recommended that you consult legal advice in order to better assess the situation. Doing so will also help evaluate your chances of successfully revoking the DMCA.

Once the notice is served to your Internet service provider there is nothing to be done till your content is taken down. When that happens, you will need to draft a DMCA counter notice. This should contain four key elements:

  1. Your name and contact information.
  2. Your signature – either physical or digital.
  3. Identification of alleged infringing content before its takedown.
  4. A statement that you believe that the content was wrongfully or mistakenly accused of infringement.


You can write one up yourself or use a template for filing a valid counter notice. After filing a counter notice, if the accusing party does not take legal action within 10 business days the Internet service provider is bound to restore your content.

Wrapping It Up

There’s only so much you can do to prevent your content from being stolen, and even less to take preemptive measures against it. DMCA makes it easy for content owners to handle unauthorized usage of their content by allowing them to file a DMCA takedown notice with the infringing party’s Internet service provider.

In this post, we’ve offered some insight into DMCA’s protection, its procedure, and outlined what you need to do to issue a takedown notice. Let’s quickly recap the main points:

  1. The first thing you need to do is identify the service provider of the site that’s infringing your content and gather information about it using tools like WHOis.
  2. Once you’ve identified the service provider, start drafting the DMCA notice. You can write one yourself or use a service to handle the entire process.
  3. Finally, notify the Internet service provider of the site that has infringed your content by sending them the DMCA takedown notice. Alternatively the notice can be sent to the domain registrar and major search engines if the ISP fails to take it down.

Do you have any questions about DMCA protection, procedures, and takedowns? We’d love to hear from you so let us know by commenting below!

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