Copyright law exists to protect content creators and owners — if work they produce is used without their permission, they have the ability to take legal action that could result in fines up to $150,000 depending on the severity of the offense.
The challenge? Legal actions are both time- and resource-intensive and in many cases don’t achieve the ultimate goal: Quickly removing copyrighted content from websites. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was created to both streamline this process and pinpoint specific instances where services hosting copyright content are protected from legal liability.
Not sure how the DMCA works or what it means for your website? We’ve got you covered with an in-depth look at this protective process.
What is the DMCA?
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a subset of U.S. Copyright Law and specifically relates to the takedown, removal, and putback of copyrighted content displayed online.
Passed by Congress in 1998, the act looks to protect copyright owners in the event that their content or material is posted online without their permission or knowledge. It provides a system for removing this content that doesn’t require copyright holders to directly sue sites using work without permission and also establishes protections for service providers — such as web hosts and Internet service providers (ISPs) — who are not directly responsible for copyright infringement.
Ultimately, the goal of the act is to provide an alternative route for copyright holders to ensure control over their content and materials. By offering a resolution process that focuses on the speedy takedown of copyrighted resources, owners have recourse for action and websites can quickly respond rather than being dragged into court.
How does DMCA work?
There are two aspects of the DMCA that are especially relevant for site owners and service providers:
Counter-Notice and Putback
Let’s explore each in more detail.
The Notice-and-Takedown provision of the DMCA requires any online site or service that posts content or allows users to post content must respond to requests — or notices — from copyright owners and takedown copyrighted content ASAP.
While there’s no single template for a takedown notice, they typically include the copyright holder’s name, the details of the copyrighted content, including where it can be found on both offending websites and where the original content is located, and a statement indicating that the content was not approved for use.
Counter-Notice and Putback
Counter-notice and putback, meanwhile, occurs when takedown notices are filed but site owners or operators have proof that they’ve satisfied copyright requirements — or that these requirements don’t apply — and the content can be put back online.
Here’s an example of how this works in practice.
The copyright holder of a digital image notices that their work is displayed on a WordPress website without their permission. If it’s a small site, they may choose to contact the site owner directly and ask to have the content taken down. If this isn’t successful, they submit a takedown notice to the site’s web host, who in turn removes the offending content.
If the site owner has proof that they’ve either paid to use the materials or that they’re not subject to copyright law, they can file a counter-notice.
Who does DMCA protect?
While the DMCA primarily protects copyright owners by providing a way for speedy resolution of content conflicts, it also offers protection for service providers such as ISPs, search engines, website hosts, and news sites that aren’t responsible for posting copyrighted content but may inadvertently share it.
If service providers fall into one of four categories defined by the DMCA and promptly respond to takedown and counter-takedown requests, they’re generally immune to liability from copyright infringement, even if site owners aren’t acting in good faith.
Under the DMCA, service providers engaged in four types of activities are generally protected from copyright infringement:
1. Transitory Communications
Transitory communication providers are those that only transmit or route information through a system. Internet service providers often fall into this category, so long as they don’t have the ability to modify or edit the data in any way. Here, the facilitation of data transmission is what grants these service providers immunity to copyright infringement.
2. System Caching
Providers that offer temporary storage — or caching — of unmodified data for third parties such as website owners are also exempt from liability.
3. Content Storage
Storage providers are not liable for copyright infringement if they do not have the knowledge of copyrighted material being stored and do not have the ability to edit it.
4. Information Location
Finally, information location services such as search engines are not responsible for copyright material returned as search results so long as they can’t control this content and don’t receive any financial benefit from its display.
Worth noting? To ensure compliance with DMCA regulations, service providers must post a notice of intent to comply with DMCA on their websites and must designate an agent to respond and act if takedown notices are filed.
Providers must also make contact information for the agent easily accessible and must promptly respond to takedown requests. Failure to designate an agent or respond quickly could result in the loss of infringement immunity and potential legal consequences.
What is a DMCA protection badge?
A DMCA protection badge is a small image placed on site pages next to content that is copyrighted and not available for public use without permission.
While not officially required by DMCA rules, these badges can be an effective way to deter potential copyright thieves. By making it clear that resources are not for use with express permission, owners can more easily make the case for takedowns and service providers can more quickly verify ownership.
There’s no specific framework or format for these badges — content owners can create their own or download prebuilt badge templates online.
3 Ways to Increase Copyright Protection
Worried about copyrighted content being used without permission — or accidentally posting something that’s covered by copyright law? Here are three ways to help increase online protection.
1. Check for duplicate content.
Whether you’re looking to see if your content is being posted elsewhere or ensuring the content you post is original, it’s a good idea to check for duplicate data using tools such as Copyscape.
Simply copy and paste the content you want to check in the search bar, click “go” and the service will return results of any duplicate content.
2. Search for similar images.
You can also search for copyrighted images using services such as Google’s Reverse Image Search. It’s easy — simply search for something using Google and then click on the “Images” tab. Here, we’ve searched for “grey cat” and received these results:
Now, right-click on any image and select “Search Google for Image.” The search engine will then return both similar and identical results, letting you quickly pinpoint potential copyright infringements.
This plugin prevents users from right-clicking and copying images and other resources from your page and also provides alerts if users attempt to right-click and save your content.
Keeping Copycats at Bay
The DMCA offers a streamlined way to handle copyright concerns. Speedy avenues for takedown and removal make it possible for content owners to quickly resolve issues, while offering service providers exemption from liability — so long as they respond promptly — ensures they’re motivated to help keep copycats at bay.
Originally published Jan 4, 2022 7:00:00 AM, updated June 14 2022