How to Properly File a Digital Millennium Copyright Act Complaint

One of the great things about the internet is how it has transformed access to information and sources of knowledge, from newspapers to private blogs and even self-written electronic books and other helpful content. While the majority of content featured on the internet is original content written by just one author or a collaborative community of authors, there exists a small but growing number of websites which are designed to illegally duplicate that information and give it away for free.

A thief steals the ideas of a manImage Source: A Thief Steals the Ideas of a Man via Shutterstock

This undercuts the ability of the internet to be a profitable or informational tool altogether. These “information piracy” websites cause content creators to be underpaid and unacknowledged, and they foster a sense of entitlement among the wider internet audience. When people learn that even the best content is available for free, illegally or not, many of them will opt to bypass paying for an author’s work and instead direct their traffic toward an information piracy site.

Making Economic Returns to the Ideas or CreativityImage Source: Making Economic Returns to the Ideas or Creativity via Shutterstock

Luckily, the practice of copying and distributing someone else’s online content or information has long been criminalized in the United States as part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The law was passed by the United States Congress in 1998 partially in response to two treaties ratified by the Intellectual Property Organization. Those treaties condemned the theft of electronic information, ranging from print sources to videos, music, and most anything produced by one person and distributed against their will by another.

A Person Affixing the Seal of CopyrightImage Source: A Person Affixing the Seal of Copyright via Shutterstock

Part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act allows for original content creators to report incidents of theft to search engines like Google or even the company which is providing web space and bandwidth to the individual which is hosting the stolen content. This is a two-pronged approach that is relatively effective at eliminating the distribution of stolen intellectual property.

Notifying Google, or any major search engine, of the intellectual property theft taking place at a domain will cause that company to eliminate the offending website from any search result for a given piece of written, recorded, or other intellectual property. On the other hand, sending the same notice to a web host will cause them to investigate the activity going on with a certain user’s account or a certain domain name, they’ll likely issue a temporary or permanent suspension of services to the offending website. That virtually assures that the original content author will be able to rehabilitate their image, recoup their profits, and recover from what is generally perceived to be one of the biggest threats to modern-day content creators.

Any notice sent to a major corporation under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) must follow a certain format and be sure to point out any violations of the policy, any examples or evidence that a violation is taking place, and a statement of good faith and contact information on behalf of the content creator who is filing the complaint.

Here’s a step-by-step guide which will explain how to create the best DMCA intellectual property theft notice.

Step 1: Develop the Digital Millennium Copyright Act Notice with a Proper Business Header

Because the DMCA notice which wil be sent to a major corporation is essentially a corporate communication between two entities, the top of the document should look like a standard business memorandum header. It should include the name of the business which received the notice as well as their address, and it should list their address as well as the date it was sent from the intellectual property owner. A prime example looks like the one listed below:

Date: May 22, 2013

Yahoo! Inc.
Attn: DMCA Copyright Complaints Department
701 1st Ave.
Sunnyvale, CA 94809

Following this rather standard business header, be sure to address the leader to “To Whom It May Concern.” This is the most formal and gender-neutral way of addressing whoever may receive the complaint and validate the contents of the intellectual property holder. With that part of the document complete, it’s time to get into the real “meat” of a DMCA notice, where the concrete proof of theft will be displayed and the company will be asked to take action against the violating website or distribution outlet.

Step 2: Explain that the Letter is Being Sent to Address Copyright Infringement

Now it’s time to tell the company listed in the first part of the letter why they’re receiving written communication from you in the first place. The intellectual property holder must make it clear, in just a few sentences at the top of the document, that they’re contacting the company because of a certain provision of United States copyright law. This provision is contained within a section of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and, once the provision is identified to the company in question, they’ll know exactly how to proceed in order to verify the theft and take action to prevent its recurrence.

Here’s a great example of how to notify the company that the letter to follow will deal with a complaint under the United States Digital Millennium Copyright Act:

To Whom It May Concern,

This notice serves to notify you that I wish to report a violation of United States copyright law under section 512(c) of the U.S. Copyright Law under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998. It is my belief that the distribution channel in question has not properly obtained licensing or distribution rights for this content and, as your service is promoting their works to the wider online audience, I have sought to address this concern with your office.

Step 3: Identifying the Exact Material Which is Believed Stolen Without Payment or Due Credit

The next step of the DMCA notice process is to list the exact intellectual property which has been stolen by the offending internet user, in a list format, until each instance of theft has been exhaustively documented to, in this case, the executives at Yahoo. This will be in a new paragraph below the introduction to the letter, and a great example of how to formulate this paragraph exists below:

There are several incidents of theft where copyrighted material which I produced, and to which I have exclusive publication and distribution rights, have been duplicated on the offending website. These works include the following:

1. Article 1 About Cars, posted on May 14, 2012, at the following URL: http://domain.com/link-to-cars-article/

2. Article 2 About Transmissions, posted on May 12, 2012, at the following URL: http://domain.com/link-to-transmissions-article/

3. Article 3 About Kia Motors, posted on May 8, 2012, at the following URL: http://domain.com/link-to-kia-article/

4. Article 4 About Auto Loans, posted on May 1, 2012, at the following URL: http://domain.com/link-to-loans-article/

5. Article 5 About Interest Rates, posted on April 28, 2012, at the following URL: http://domain.com/link-to-interest-article/

Each of these websites is displayed in a typical Yahoo! search when the visitor searches for "Domain.com cars articles," and it is severely impacting my traffic, impressions, and revenue.

Step 4: Tell the Company in Question How to Contact You About Their Resolution of this Matter

Next, the company which has received the Digital Millennium Copyright Act notice must be aware of how to contact you after they have properly investigated this alleged occurrence of plagiarism or theft. It’s a good idea to include a home address as well as a business address, and be sure to include both daytime and evening phone numbers so that you can be reached no matter when the company decides to communicate about their investigation and the actions they’re taking to resolve the matter. Here’s a sample of that part of the letter:

I have included my contact information below, and I kindly request that correspondence be maintained between your company and myself as the prosecution and resolution of this matter unfolds. I have included both home and office contact information, as well as daytime and evening phone numbers, for your convenience as well as my own.

My Name
123 Main St.
Town Goes Here, DE 19801
TEL: 302-555-5555

My Office Name
Attn: My Name
2345 Office St.
Suite L
Town Goes Here, DE 19801
TEL: 302-555-5555 ext. 000

Please contact me using my office information between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. After the close of business hours, please contact me using my home address or telephone information regarding the status of this incident.

Step 5: Verify that You Declare Yourself the Copyright Owner Under Penalty of Perjury

Because this is essentially the beginning of a legal proceeding, the copyright owner must declare that they are the owner of the material in question under penalty of perjury. This is generally to prevent the actually infringers from trying to take down the original source material for their own personal gain. This is a relatively simple statement included at the end of the letter, and it looks pretty much identical to the “penalty of perjury” clause at the end of job employment applications and other legal documents.

Here’s a great template for the statement:

Under penalty of perjury, I hereby swear that all of the information contained in the above notification of copyright infringement is true and accurate. I swear that I am the content owner or that I am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of the above referenced copyrighted content which I have alleged in this notification to have been infringed.

Step 6: Send Out the Digital Millennium Copyright Notice to Each Targeted Corporation via U.S. Certified Mail

In most cases, people would simply send a notification to a corporation using regular mail (officially known as Priority Mail in the United States), but this is not sufficient for official communication as it pertains to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Instead, those filing a complaint with a corporation in order to reclaim their copyrighted content must opt for certified mail when sending a letter to take down an offending website or distribution channel.

Metaphor About the Author who Retains OwnershipImage Source: Metaphor About the Author who Retains Ownership via Shutterstock

This is an excellent idea for a few reasons, the most notable of which is that letters sent via Certified Mail can be tracked using a typical United States Postal Service tracking number. Beyond that, however, sending a letter via Certified Mail also allows the sender to request that they receive a “read receipt” when the letter has been received by the company on the end end of the dispute. This allows them to keep records of official communication in case further legal action is involved. Specifically, courts will want to see a “good faith” effort made by the copyright owner or their representative, and they’ll want proof that the company was contacted and that they failed to follow the DMCA guidelines appropriately. This is a great backup plan, and one can never have too much documentation when it comes to preserving the integrity of their intellectual property.

After the notice has been sent, the company will begin investigating allegations of copyright infringement and contact the intellectual property owner with any results or requests for additional information which may be required.

Author: (40 Posts)

Vladislav Davidzon is the principal of US-based online marketing consultancy Vladislav Davidzon & Associates, developing integrative solutions through high impact search engine optimized WordPress websites for socially responsible customers of all sizes around the world.

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