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Do You Need a DMCA Policy?

Copyright issues can be irritatingly problematic and bring forth several legal problems that website operators want to avoid. For creators, in particular, copyright problems pose several issues, many of which aren’t even considered. The Internet and digital world make copyright issues paramount, as it’s all too easy to steal someone else's work, sometimes without even knowing it. For website operators, unintentional copyright infringements are a matter of great concern. If you’re a website owner or operator, you probably need a DMCA policy posted on your site.

What Is the DMCA?

DMCA stands for Digital Millennium Copyright Act and aims to regulate digital media and tackle copyright issues. Essentially, the DMCA covers United States copyright law and addresses the rights of those who own copyrighted material and whether or not those rights have been infringed upon. The DMCA also investigates infringements and fortifies penalties upon those who have breached copyright law.

It should be noted that the DMCA specifically refers to United States law, as many other countries use their own version of copyright law. This means that the DMCA applies to websites that are hosted within the United States. Under this law, copyright owners in other countries can issue a DMCA notice to a website hosted within the US that they believe has infringed upon their copyright. Copyright infringement itself is the process by which an unauthorized individual copies, displays, distributes, or otherwise closely derives work that is protected under copyright.

You may already be familiar with the basics of copyright law; essentially, you can’t steal work made by another creator. But that doesn’t answer the question, do you need a DMCA policy on your website?

Well, the answer may lie in the DMCA provision commonly referred to as the “safe harbor”. This provision protects website operators and Internet service providers from copyright infringements.

How Does the “Safe Harbor” Work?

The DMCA “safe harbor” is, as stated above, a provision aimed at protecting website operators and internet service providers from copyright infringements. Essentially, this provision was enacted to allow the internet to expand and limit the liability of website operators. To put it in slightly simpler terms, website operators or internet service providers are immune from copyright infringement under the following circumstances:

  • There was no knowledge of copyrighted materials being posted on their site

  • They are not receiving any sort of financial benefit from copyrighted materials, and

  • They implement a DMCA notice and takedown procedure

Regarding the final point, a DMCA takedown procedure states that the website operator or internet service provider must create and comply with a DMCA policy that is posted for the site’s users. They must comply with that policy if they receive a copyright infringement claim. Complying typically includes taking down copyrighted materials and removing repeating offenders.

Do You Need a DMCA Policy?

At the end of the day, it’s much safer to have a DMCA policy on your website, particularly if you intend to post creative content, as it limits your liability in copyright infringement claims. It’s highly recommended that website owners implement a DMCA policy.

A DMCA policy aims to act as a balance between copyright owners, website operators, and those who are infringing on a copyright. By posting the notice, you’re enabling copyright owners to file copyright claims, and website users to counteract those claims if they believe they are not infringing on copyrights. DMCA policies also give you as the website owner the opportunity to remove copyrighted material that you were unaware of without issue.

Including a DMCA policy isn’t too difficult to achieve. You can make it part of your Terms of Use or a standalone policy if you prefer. A standalone policy is usually recommended for websites that post large amounts of creative content and thus are at higher risk of accidental copyright infringement.

DMCA policies need to be clear and succinct in detailing how copyright owners can file a claim of infringement. For example, you should clearly state what their claim should include, such as identification of the copyrighted work along with identification of the material that infringes upon it.

Copyright law can be confusing, and as a website owner or operator, the last thing you want to do is find yourself in legal trouble because you didn’t cover all your bases. For help implementing a DMCA policy on your website, contact Emerald Law today.

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