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Managing a brand's reputation involves protecting the various copyrights and trademarks associated with that brand. Intellectual property is real and valuable, and in a world of over seven billion people, there's a good chance someone out there is trying to steal a company's digital assets. In cases where copyright infringement has been found, the party who owns the copyright can transcribe what is known as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to both ensure effective reputation management and protect their property.
What is a DMCA takedown?
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 was an attempt to extend US copyright law to the Wild West – the Internet. It was originally an anti-piracy law designed to discourage people from using digital technologies to copy and distribute copyrighted digital works. However, it was later interpreted to allow companies to strictly restrict the use of their products by users. In 1998, famous artist and pop icon Prince launched foundation legislation to remove a YouTube video of a toddler dancing to his song "Let's Go Crazy," which is playing in the background in the area. As is known, the peer-to-peer torrent download website Napster has been closed for abuse of copyright infringement. Although arguments included the unauthorized use of material for good cause, the ultimate goal was to manage and protect the authors' reputations, as thousands of cases showed the artist, writer, author, or publisher's branding was tarnished as the material was distributed in a material deteriorated form on the Internet.
Today there are hundreds of thousands of situations where DMCAs are used to protect intellectual property in media, publications, social networks, etc. Just last year, Apple used it to remove a tweet that contained an iPhone encryption key, but lifted the deactivation request when there was a backlash. Of course, it can be a controversial act, and there can be a thin line between fair use and direct theft. Each case must be reviewed independently using the guidelines set out in the law.
Since its inception, DMCA shutdowns have expanded significantly, mostly affecting online copyright infringement (i.e. using someone else's intellectual property or content). A company that has found it to be a victim of copyright infringement even if the company is not in the United States can issue a DMCA deactivation notice to the site's web host.
Related: A Essential Guide To Intellectual Property For Any Business Owner
What is copyright infringement?
In general, copyright infringement exists when a copyrighted work is distributed, reproduced, publicly displayed, performed, included in a derivative work, or otherwise used without the permission of the owner.
Some examples of online copyright infringement could be:
Record a film in a theater and publish it on the Internet
Downloading music, movies, or TV shows without paying (often called pirated)
Using photos for marketing, blog posts, etc. without the photographer's permission
Pick parts out of a book and use them in your own work without citing the original author
Use unlicensed music in your video or advertising
Using copied software code without permission or acknowledgment from the original author
Copying and using original works in whole or in part without permission or consent
How to submit a DMCA takedown
A DMCA takedown usually follows a few standard steps. These steps are as follows:
Contact the author to try to remove the content
Contact the web host / site owner to remove the content
Submit a DMCA deactivation notification to the web host / service provider
Request the shutdown from an ISP
Remove the content from search engine results through the search engine opt-out process
Alternative methods of removing copyright infringement
While DMCA shutdowns at publishing authorities can be done at the beginning, sometimes the desired result is not achieved. For example, if Google accepts your DMCA request, it will effectively remove the content from Google search results, but it may still be on that website. Many companies opt for a multi-objective process by notifying all third parties involved. Additionally, it may be all you need to reach out to the author and politely ask them to write down the information yourself. Sometimes a strongly worded e-mail is sufficient, indicating that legal action (e.g. a cease and desist letter) will be taken if the copyrighted material is not removed upon request.
A courteous copyright infringement letter would simply state the details of the exact infringement and the name of the publication it is hosted on and the type of media (written, photo, video, etc.), as well as a reference to the DMCA Act, followed by a request to abolish it if further legal action is to be avoided. This also helps avoid more costly or time consuming procedures. After all, chances are the author was unaware of the copyright infringement and doesn't want to have any problems.
Contact the host, ISP, or search engine
If contacting the author doesn't work, the next stop is the web host and / or search engine. Legitimate hosting sites don't want a reputation for serving up copyrighted material. So this can be an effective approach. Many web hosts and search engines have a specific email address or website for copyright complaints. Of course, there is also the option of paying a professional company to submit the acceptance notice. They generally have a lot more experience and expertise in this particular field.
By filing a DMCA directly with the host, they can forcefully remove the digital asset from the publisher's web account. For example, Amazon would remove a book or product that has been shown not to be owned by the account holder. In the same way, website hosts can digitally remove a page and block it from the public, and Google can remove it from search results.
DMCA shutdowns are common
In 2019, Google said it had received nearly half a billion DMCA shutdown requests. This is primarily due to reputation management companies putting in place bot-based monitoring software to detect, tag, and automatically submit DMCAs to aid the entertainment industry and organizations involved in the creation of high volumes of public material.
Because of the legal obligation to comply with such requirements, many web hosts or service providers have a dedicated department to handle these types of complaints. However, unless they have a DMCA template, they are relatively easy to create. There are plenty of free DMCA notification guides and templates available online.
The process can take a few days to several months. However, when these steps are followed and there is a legitimate copyright infringement, a DMCA shutdown can be a straightforward endeavor. If DMCA opt-out is unsuccessful, a company can also attempt to remove the content from search engines by filling out appropriate forms related to copyright issues. Most search engines also have their own DMCA-related complaints section.
Related topics: Managing (and repairing) your company's online reputation
Copyright is enforced for one reason: It protects a company's brand, hard-earned reputation, and valuable intellectual property. Bad actors who violate these copyrights can result in lost revenue and a damaged reputation. Maintaining a good reputation should be a top priority for any business or executive, and DMCA shutdowns provide another tool for a company to protect its assets on the internet.