Featured image by Scott Graham
*Note: skip the template! You can now have Pixsy request a DMCA Takedown, making the process as simple as a few clicks. Learn more about the feature here.
If your copyright is infringed or your work is used without permission by a site connected with the United States, your best course of action may well be to think of your DMCA protection option (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and issue a DMCA takedown notice. Here’s a handy guide to help you figure out when – and how – to do it.
What is DMCA protection?
The DMCA, a United States copyright law from 1998, protects copyrighted works online, lays down the legal foundations of digital rights management, and enhances the penalties for copyright infringement on the internet.
Copyright exists from the moment of a work’s creation but you can look at DMCA protection as a sort of double defense against possible infringers or at least a viable option to take (see below when we recommend issuing a DMCA takedown).
If a certain work is DMCA protected, let it be an article, audio, image, or video, it is illegal to copy that work, and the production and distribution of technology, devices, or services that get around copyright protection measures are also prohibited under the DMCA.
What protection does DMCA offer?
The DMCA protects two groups:
- Copyright owners can ‘activate’ their DMCA protection through a DMCA takedown notice.
- OSPs (Online Service Providers), including ISPs (Internet Service Providers, such as email systems or search engines) can find what is called ‘Safe Harbor’ against copyright infringement liability under the DMCA if they meet specific requirements. OSPs have to register here in order to qualify for safe harbor protection and this directory will show you those already registered.
We will focus on copyright owners and the process of issuing a DMCA takedown notice below.
Photo by Cytonn Photography
What is a DMCA takedown notice?
If a person, business, or host publishes your work without permission or in breach of a copyright license, you can send that image user a DMCA takedown notice, which is a formal request by or on behalf of the copyright owner, to remove the offending image from the website where it’s published.
If hosts, OSPs, and ISPs remove infringing content hosted on their server as soon as they are notified (in a timely manner), the DMCA grants them ‘safe harbor’ from prosecution if they are registered, as mentioned above. They have to act fast and remove or disable access to the infringing material and notify the copyright owner about this.
If the owner thinks there’s been a mistake made, they can send a counter-notice that requires the provider to restore access “in no less than ten and no more than fourteen business days, unless the original notice sender informs the service provider that it has filed a court action against the user”.
US (and affiliate) courts take DMCA claims very seriously, and failure to act can lead to severe penalties for OSPs and ISPs or content providers. Accordingly, as an image creator, sending a DMCA takedown notice can sometimes be the quickest and most effective way to get your content removed.
When should I send a DMCA takedown?
As an image owner, you should consider sending a DMCA takedown notice if:
- You are the original owner of the image or the authorized agent of the owner.
- You did not grant a license for your work to be used.
- The site that published your work is connected to the US. (DMCA is a US act.)
- The image user has not responded to your requests to properly license the image or otherwise remove the image.
- You do not want to engage with the image user directly.
- The unauthorized use was committed by an individual or an entity from whom you are unlikely to recover compensation.
It’s worth noting that although DMCA is a US act, similar style notices and takedown procedures exist in many other countries.
Things to consider before issuing a DMCA takedown notice
DMCA takedowns allow you to quickly and efficiently have your content removed from a site. With that in mind, they aren’t always appropriate. Ask yourself these questions before moving forward:
What do you want to achieve?
If your main motivation is to be paid fairly for your work, a DMCA takedown notice is not the best first move. Most photographers do not realize that they may be entitled to compensation for use of their work that has already occurred. Note that recovering compensation is usually only possible when the image in question has been used by a commercial enterprise or organization.
If your main or sole motivation is to have your work taken offline, a takedown notice is a great solution.
Is there a more direct route?
To address the sheer volume of illegally distributed content on social media, many platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest, have created their own in-house methods for reporting and taking down disputed works. Read our article on social media and image copyright.
Is it definitely the same image?
Photos can look similar. Make sure the ‘infringing image’ is definitely the same as your original. Comparing the images’ metadata is one way to do this. Beware: Lodging a false DMCA takedown notice could bring a counterclaim and can be considered perjury.
Could the use of your photo qualify as fair use?
If you’re not sure, this tool can help you decide.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema
Tip: Are you sure you want the photo removed? If the use doesn’t harm the integrity of your work, you may wish to ask for a backlink to your website or another form of credit instead of a takedown. However, we advise you to insist on compensation in most cases for commercial and editorial uses.
Pixsy also has a DMCA takedown feature that can handle the process in one click for many sites.
Determine where to send a DMCA takedown
You generally have three options here.
1. Designated agent (including Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest):
Many websites consisting primarily of user-posted content, including social media sites, list a designated agent with the U.S. Copyright Office. You can look up a site and send a takedown to the contact provided, though some websites may insist you use their online form.
Pixsy members send a DMCA takedown to many popular social media sites for matches that display a “Takedown” button.
2. The site’s web host:
Most web hosts respond when you send a DMCA takedown expeditiously, so this is a great place to send a takedown if you cannot find a designated agent.
Here’s a quick way to find a site’s host and contact:
- Visit the aptly named Whoishostingthis.com
- Enter the website’s address
- Grab the web host’s name
- Go to their website or use Google to identify an email for abuse or copyright claims
You can also get any page hosting your content without permission removed from Google search results. This effectively blacklists it from the Internet and is a good solution if the web host or site owner does not comply with your request, or if you have good reason to believe they won’t. This is also a good option if you simply don’t have time to find contact details as described in the steps above.
Ready to send your DMCA takedown?
If you’ve considered the above options and decided that a takedown notice is the best course of action, think about the best way to send it.
A DMCA takedown notice ideally includes:
- An introduction and the reason you’re sending the takedown notice.
- Details of your original copyrighted work used unauthorized by the other party, such as the title of your photograph and details of the infringer party such as the URL where you found the copy of your work.
- Proof of your copyright ownership regarding the given work.
- A good faith statement implying that involved parties will avoid acting in a dishonest manner or in any way that hinders the case from being resolved.
- A perjury statement where you express that everything you state in your notice is true and correct, in other words, not intentionally false.
- Your contact information and signature.
DMCA takedown notice template:
Here is a basic DMCA template to get your photos removed from various websites.
Dear Designated Agent:
My name is [Your name].
Your website or a website that your company hosts is infringing on a copyright-protected photograph owned by me. The original photo, entitled “[Title]“, to which I own the exclusive copyrights, is located at: [URL where you originally published the photo, if available]
The unauthorized and infringing copy is located at: [The website using your work without permission]
It is hosted at: [The exact location of the photo on the infringing site, for example https://www.porpoiseworld.com/content/porpoise-call.jpg]
This letter is an official notification under Section 512(c) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (”DMCA”). I seek the removal of the infringing material referenced above.Please take note as a service provider, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act requires you, to remove or disable access to the infringing materials upon receipt of this notice.
The Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act grants service providers such as your company immunity from liability so long as you investigate and rectify this copyright violation in a timely manner. Should your company fail to do so, it may become liable for the infringement.
Please remove and disable all access to the aforementioned copyrighted work immediately. I have a good faith belief that the use of the copyrighted materials described above as allegedly infringing is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.
I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the information in the notification is accurate and that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.
Be prepared to follow-up
In some situations, the recipient requests additional contact details such as your address or more proof that the photo is yours. If you did not precisely identify your own photo or the photo used without permission, you will also likely receive an email seeking further clarification. The content poster also has the opportunity to issue a counter-notice if they dispute your takedown.
At Pixsy, our goal is to make sure that artists are fairly paid for their work. When photographers encounter non-commercial use of their photos, we encourage them to send a DMCA takedown if they would like to remove them.
It’s also best to keep in mind that proper legal support can always further assist your case. Services like Pixsy can automate this process and help you send one-click takedown notices, available in 14 languages (for 96 cents or less!). Find out more here.
Plus, to avoid a takedown situation in the first place, consider using active image protection: check out our top 13 ways to protect your images from unauthorized use online.
- The DMCA protects digital works against copyright infringement in the US.
- Copyright owners and OSPs (Online Service Providers) can both be protected under the DMCA.
- A DMCA takedown notice is the best way to get your work removed from a (US-based) site using it without permission.
- A DMCA takedown does not lead to compensation, so is generally better suited to situations where your work has been used for non-commercial purposes.
- The big social media platforms have in-house methods for reporting copyright breaches and takedown requests.
- Send the notice yourself by downloading a takedown template, or use a service like Pixsy that automates the process.
- Make sure the image is definitely yours. Lodging a false DMCA takedown notice could bring a counterclaim.