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Every piece of copyright content represents an investment of time and effort.
Creating content is hard work, and the most rewarding and valuable content consumes an enormous amount of energy. Writing, photography, videography, and music are crafts that can take years to hone.
But the product of all that effort and passion takes only seconds to copy. When content is published on a WordPress site, it can be copied and republished with less effort than making a cup of coffee.
Content theft — or, more accurately, copyright infringement — is something everyone who publishes on the web will experience.
Unscrupulous bloggers copy articles and republish them under their own name. Content farmers crawl huge swaths of the web for popular content to republish without permission. If your content is popular, it will be stolen.
What is copyright?
Copyright is a legal right that gives you, the content creator, the right to decide who is allowed to copy your work. Copyright applies from the moment the content is created.
You can give away or transfer the copyright, and you can grant licenses that allow others to copy your content.
But if someone republishes your content without licensing it or obtaining the copyright from you, they are acting illegally.
Publishing content online does not alter or undermine your copyright. It’s important to emphasize this point because it’s often misunderstood.
As the creator, you can do what you want with your content, including publishing it online. Doing so does not alter your copyright or give other people the right to copy your content.
What can you do about copyright violation?
One day, you search on Google to find articles related to a topic that you recently published an article about on your site. You notice that the top search result has the same headline as your article, which is lower in the results.
Curious, you click on the link and discover that it is your article, but published on a different domain without your permission. What can you do about it?
Contacting the website
Contact the site owner to let them know they’re violating your copyright. You may be able to find a relevant email address on the site or social media with a little research.
Copyright violation can happen inadvertently, and many publishers happily remove violating content when they’re notified. Some publishers, however, will ignore you.
If you can’t get the site owner to do the right thing, it’s time to consider issuing a takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
Contacting the hosting provider
Takedown notices should be sent to the organization hosting the infringing content. Typically, that means the site’s hosting provider, but it might be a content distribution network like Cloudflare.
Responsible web hosting providers make it easy to send takedown notices by providing an abuse email address or a web form.
But first, you have to find out who the hosting provider is, which is not always straightforward.
The most reliable technique is to find out the IP address of the infringing website and use that to perform a WHOIS lookup to discover which organization controls the block that includes the site’s IP address.
That sounds complicated, but it’s easy enough if you follow these instructions:
- Find the IP address by copying the domain of the infringing website into this tool. It will spit out a lot of information, but you are looking for a result that looks like this — IP Address: 188.8.131.52.
- Copy the IP address and paste it into the Search Whois box at the top right of this page. The results should contain the name of the organization that controls the IP address and provides the site’s hosting.
Once you know who is hosting the content, you can send them a takedown notice. Most hosting providers publish a page on their site explaining how to do this.
You can find it by Googling “hosting provider DMCA takedown.” Replace hosting provider with the organization hosting the infringing content.
What to expect after sending a takedown notice
When a hosting provider receives the takedown notice, they will almost certainly remove the offending content. They are obligated to respond to takedown notices.
The site owner has the right to challenge the takedown notice by issuing a counter-notice. A counter notice will be passed on to you, and if you don’t respond, the content will be restored to the site.
In the majority of cases, the site owner chooses not to issue a counter-notice, and the infringement is resolved once the content is removed.
If the site owner does submit a counter-notice they know to be false, they have committed perjury, and most would rather take the content down than risk the consequences.
If you receive a counter-notice, you have to decide whether to take the matter further, which involves petitioning a court for an injunction to prevent the infringing content from being restored.
At this point, it’s time to seek the advice of a legal professional.
Copyright content: dealing with legalities
A word of warning before we close: a takedown notice is a legal document. If you submit a false takedown notice, you commit perjury.
People have been fined for submitting unfounded takedown notices. In a recent case, the submitter of an unfounded takedown notice was fined $25,000. If in doubt, get legal advice before you act.
We have covered the basics of content creator copyright and the DMCA takedown process in this article, but you may want to consult these sources for a deeper dive into copyright law and the DMCA.