We were recently somewhat shocked to receive a “DMCA takedown notice” for a site hosted with us by a friend of ours, a designer who has been using our services for 4 or so years!
The notice was issued by a company in the UK, claiming the content of the website we hosted was the same as a website in the UK. I compared the site on our server with the site in the UK, and they did show substantial similarities that obviously weren’t coincidental!
What was interesting and surprising about this was two things:
- the nature of “DMCA takedown notices” and how they are now being used;
- that the similarities had been found, given that the content wasn’t identical.
Many of you may not know about DMCA takedown notices. Based on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in the US, essentially any site that infringes on an existing copyright may have a takedown notice issued against it, and they are simply a matter of writing a fixed format letter so little or no cost is involved. I think both the person issuing the notice and the target of the notice need to be in the US, so I suppose officially this notice was actually invalid, but as a webhosting company we are pretty much forced to take the website down immediately as if we don’t act, our server providers can pull the plug on the whole server! Failure to act on DMCA notices can expose a company to heavy legal penalties in the US. Increasingly, DMCA notices, which cost nothing to issue, are being used by individuals to enforce their copyright on material they’ve developed. In this case, the copying was a direct copy of the website material they’d written, and probably paid to have copywritten, so I can understand their desire not to have someone else profiting from it!
Secondly, an important issue to be aware of is how the website was found – by an automated scanner! There are an increasing number of services which allow you to subscribe and then “keep watch” for people copying your website, or other, content. They usually work by automatically searching google for representative phrases from your site and then comparing the results and reporting back to the subscriber if substantial similarities are found.
What this means for the average website owner is that if you copy content, you will be caught sooner or later, and you may be compelled to have your site taken down until the content is replaced. Obviously this isn’t a nice situation to be in, so if you have content on your site that came from elsewhere we recommend you look at getting it rewritten fairly soon!
Original and effective wording on your website can obviously make a real difference, and it isn’t trivial to write such stuff as you’ll know if you’ve tried. If you’re stuck, the services of a copywriter can be hugely helpful, even if you only use them to refine your key pages.
Just today, we were speaking to a developer friend who got issued with a $10,000 writ from Getty Images in the US for using *edited portions* of 3 of their images in a personal site for his wife which he’d forgotten about! Again, fascinating that they were able to find these images as they were edited. A friend of his had received a similar writ from Getty Images for $30,000! While he contacted them and was able to negotiate them down to only a few thousand, it’s worth remembering that bluster aside, a US company has little real legal recourse against Australian entities. Still, it’s really not worth going there in the first place as there are many free sources for images these days! I’m aware that some of the mega-corporations have set up Australian entities just to allow them to fight legal issues locally.
One final thing to be aware of is domain naming – as common sense would suggest, it’s a bad idea to use a domain name that is substantially similar to that of a corporate giant; and it’s similarly common sense to register the main variations of your own business name now, before any contention can arise. Two of our customers so far this year have been asked to cease using a domain name, both fairly amicable. If you are approached about this, do have a chat with us, as you can claim a reasonable amount of money for your inconvenience and out of pocket expenses.
Yet another example of how the Internet is evolving slowly!