As a website owner, it's easy to infringe on intellectual property rights if you're not truly cautious. If you end up violating someone's copyrights, you may receive an infringement notice, also called a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notice. Here's what to do if you get one.
Read the notice carefully
Copyright infringement notices can come from various sources—individual owners, attorneys, and internet service providers. The notice should clearly identify the alleged infringing work to determine whether you truly committed the violation.
The notice should also show proof that the sender owns the copyrights or represents the party who does.
If the letter cannot prove ownership of the copyright, it is invalid, and no further action is necessary. If you think there may be a problem, consider talking to an attorney or replying to the letter to sort out the facts.
Determine whether copyright infringement exists
Once you locate the copyrighted work in question, determine where you got it. If it's on your site, that should be fairly easy, but if it's on someone else's site that you are hosting, inform them of the notice and ask them to show you where the work came from.
Examples of copyright infringement include, without permission:
- Using copyrighted images that are not your own on your website or another medium
- Using copyrighted music clips on your website
- Modifying images and using them on your website
- Creating t-shirts or other items using copyrighted images or words
- Posting a video using copyrighted music, video, or images
- Copying large portions of someone else's text and using it on your website
- Sharing feature-length movies or TV shows
- Sharing music
- Using anyone's copyrighted material and using a "No Copyright Infringement Intended" Disclaimer—these don't work—infringement can be declared regardless of whether it's intentional
This list is not exclusive of all infringement examples. If you use an image, music, text, or any other creative work that is not your own and do not have explicit permission to use it, you are likely infringing on someone's copyrights. If you cannot show you have a license to use the material, it's in the public domain, or your use constitutes fair use, you need to remove the material from your site and otherwise stop using it.
Do not ignore the copyright infringement notice
Whether you determine that copyright infringement exists or you can prove that you had permission or the work is yours, reply to the notice. Your reply can be as simple as informing them you have removed the infringing content or a receipt from Shutterstock attesting to the license to use an image.
If you fail to respond to a notice, you may be sued. Copyright infringement penalties can be civil and criminal and include:
- Statutory damages between $750 and $30,000 per piece of work infringed upon
- Civil penalties of up to $150,000 per piece if willful infringement is found
- Actual copyright infringement damages and profits obtained due to infringing activity
- Criminal penalties of up to $250,000 per offense and up to five years in prison
Do not ignore copyright infringement notices. If you have questions about the legality and the next steps you should take, speak with an experienced copyright attorney. Consult an online service provider for assistance protecting your intellectual property.