As a creator of digital content, you want to know your creations are protected from unfair copying and distribution. Unfortunately, the digital era has made it all too easy for anyone to redistribute content with just a few clicks. The “share and share alike” nature of social media makes plagiarism seem almost inevitable, but DMCA protection ensures your content remains safe from potential misuse, whether intentional or accidental.
Understanding the DMCA
Signed into law in 1998 by President Bill Clinton, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) protects all content posted on the web. We’ve previously written a comprehensive guide to the DMCA if you want to more about the specifics.
The law was meant to help apply standard copyright law to digital mediums so that online content had the same protections offered to hard copies of text, videos, images and music.
DMCA not only covers online content but also requires proper steps to be taken when infringement is discovered. By including a “takedown notice” process, the law provides a direct way to combat misuse of any kind, including unauthorized access obtained by circumnavigating provisions intended to safeguard copyrighted content.
Under the DMCA, online service providers (OSPs) are given certain protections to prevent them from becoming held liable for the unlawful actions of users. Under most conditions, OSPs aren’t accountable for plagiaristic acts committed by individuals using their services and are therefore safe from legal consequences.
How Does DMCA Work?
The DMCA automatically protects any content you post on your website whether or not it’s accompanied by a copyright symbol or notice. This gives you recourse if someone copies your content, claims your content belongs to them or distributes your digital media without permission. Provisions are included to ensure copyrighted content may be accessed during legal investigations or used for research so that the law doesn’t restrict important or essential actions from being taken in these cases.
What is DMCA Safe Harbor?
Protection for OSPs under the DMCA is provided by “safe harbors,” conditions under which providers aren’t held liable for the posting, linking or distribution of copyrighted content. These provisions were added to address section 512 of the act and give OSPs strict criteria to follow in order to qualify for protection.
The law identifies four “safe harbors” for OSPs:
- Transitory digital network communications – Copyrighted data is sent through servers or over connections owned by the ISP
- System caching – Copied material is stored in the interest of improving user experience
- Information residing on systems or networks at the direction of users – Individual users store copyrighted material without the knowledge of the OSP
- Information location tools – Search, internal links or any other source with the potential to direct visitors to copyrighted content
OSPs wishing to remain safe from legal action in connection with copyrighted content must be unaware of the presence of copied material, not be gaining any financial benefit from the content, have a clear copyright policy notice for users and appoint an agent to handle copyright complaints. Agents register with the U.S. Copyright Office and are responsible for removing offending content as quickly as possible upon receiving notice from the copyright holder.
Digital Copyright Challenges
The difficulty with maintaining copyright laws for digital content lies in how easy it is to reproduce, repost or “scrape” digital media and distribute it to a wide audience. Further complicating the matter is confusion over what constitutes fair use. Small amounts of content may be quoted for certain purposes, and parodies of content are generally not considered to be plagiarism, but many users go beyond these limitations when including other people’s creations in their own content.
With so many site owners, publishers, developers and artists generating a constant stream of new content, no perfectly reliable way exists to catch every potential instance of copyright infringement. There’s very little delay between creation, posting and sharing, and it’s possible for a piece of content to go viral even if the distributor has no right to share it on a massive scale.
What is a DMCA Takedown Notice?
As the copyright holder of your content, you can combat some of the challenges of unfair digital distribution using a DMCA takedown. Should you discover an instance of stolen content, you can file a takedown notice through the DMCA website for $199 or sign up for services for $10 per month. Your takedown notice must include:
- What work has been copied
- What derivative work or website is using the stolen content
- Your contact information
- A statement in “good faith” affirming you believe the material is being used improperly
- A statement affirming the accuracy of information in your complaint and your right to file the notice as the copyright holder or an authorized representative of the creator
- Your signature
Notices are sent to the OSP agent responsible for receiving DMCA complaints. Content is then removed either by the user who originally posted it or by the OSP if the user refuses to comply.
Protecting Your Content Under the DMCA
Although the enactment of the DMCA means your digital content is already protected, the DMCA website offers official badges and watermarks to show potential plagiarists you’re serious about cracking down on improper use. These tools are available for free, but going “pro” offers more extensive protection and access to other DMCA services to help keep your content from being distributed without your permission.
To qualify for protection, content must be of a type capable of being digitally distributed, such as article or blog text, videos, photos, digital artwork or music. Keeping copies of all your works is a good idea just in case you’re called upon to prove authorship in a legal dispute.
DMCA protection offers peace of mind by giving you recourse if someone deliberately steals your content or accidentally shares more than they should. It preserves your freedom to create and distribute digital media of all kinds, so you can continue to grow your business, write your blog and otherwise pursue your passion without worrying about who might be using content in violation of your copyright.