What is the DMCA?
The DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) was enacted in 1998 in the United States, aiming to expand existing copyright law to:
- Protect studios and artists.
- Address issues surrounding the free and unauthorized sharing or redistribution of copyrighted intellectual property and other digital media across the internet.
The DMCA and copyright protection is not a new concept but came following pressure from the artists.
An outgrowth of agreements and cross agreements gave place to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a trade association of the United Nations, created in 1967 “to encourage creative activity, to promote the protection of intellectual property throughout the world.”
WIPO currently has 188 member states, administers 26 international treaties, and is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. Additionally, intellectual property laws have their roots as far back as the “The Berne Convention” adopted in 1886, which deals with the protection of works and the rights of their authors.
Essentially, this provides creators such as authors, musicians, poets, painters, etc., with controls on how to use their works and what terms.
When a studio releases a film or a musician releases an album, they do so with copyright protection.
The studio or artist can protect their copyrighted work (intellectual property) from free uncompensated redistribution of their work. But, this does not just apply to film or music but also to photographs, paintings, books, software code, articles, podcasts, and countless other types of content that carry copyright.
A copyright is a legal right the owner reserves to protect their work, granting them exclusive rights over the ownership and distribution of the work for a period.
After that, copyright holders may extend their copyright to maintain control over their original content.
Why did you get a DMCA Notice?
When you and other users receive a DMCA or copyright infringement notice from your Internet Service Provider (ISP), you are served the equivalent of a legal cease and desist notice. The DMCA ISP notice will contain information about the copyright allegedly broken, as we will see next.
What does a DMCA Notice look like?
A typical email with a DMCA warning from your ISP will contain a subject line like:
“Notice of Action under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).”, as we can see in the image above.
The body of the email will explain your ISP’s obligation to notify the user using the IP address identified as the infringing server when the violation took place.
The email will also list the following:
- Copyright holder
- Copyrighted work infringed (usually by file name)
- IP address
- How the infringing activity is affected: for example, free p2p file sharing, illegal streaming, a free download from a rogue online service, etc.,
- User’s Contact information.
Copyright infringement notice emails from all Internet Service providers, particularly those in the USA and Canada, and increasingly in Europe (both the EU and UK), follow a similar pattern.
Still, they will mention the local country’s equivalent copyright laws, not the DMCA, given it’s a USA Law.
EU 2016/593 is the EU’s implementation of Digital Copyright Legislation, which aligns with WIPO agreements, like the US DMCA and the Canadian “Notice Upon Notice Law.”
This EU e-commerce notice requires European access providers to action inbound complaints of copyright infringement.
Articles 2–4 contain definitions of the exclusive rights granted under copyright and related rights, including:
- The “reproduction right”
- The right of “communication to the public” and “making available to the public,” covering publication and transmission on the internet.
Why does my service provider send these notices out?
All ISPs, Telcos, Hosting Companies, and VPN providers are compelled by law to send a notice, regardless of their own “stance” on pirating, in North America, Europe, and an increasing number of countries around the globe.
A DMCA takedown notice (or any) copyright notice) is a tool that copyright owners use to enforce the protections that the DMCA provides.
Title II of the DCMA limits the liability of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in copyright infringement cases when they voluntarily comply with the law.
When a copyright owner provides a copyright infringement notice to an ISP, the ISP must, to avoid liability, respond to the notice by either removing or disabling access to the copyrighted work (or portion of the work) in the case of hosted content, and contact its client or account holder who was infringing on the copyright.
So if you have been downloading copyrighted movies, they must notify you of your violation of copyright, requesting you to cease and desist.
In Canada, where a similar law exists to the DMCA, this is referred to as “Notice Upon Notice,” where the ISP is not obligated to remove the infringing content but to provide notice to the user, making the user directly responsible for the infringement.
How do I avoid DMCA notices, and what do I do if I receive one?
How to avoid:
1. Only download copyrighted material from legitimate, well-known content services.
Not only is it illegal to distribute and download illegitimately distributed copyrighted material, but deploying malware with the copyrighted files is incredibly easy for cybercriminals.
It is also one of the most popular ways cybercriminals install worms, Trojan horses, and other malicious files on users’ computers.
Additionally, streaming apps, which are not mainstream and offer free content, should always be treated as suspect sources of malware too.
How to respond:
1. Discuss the DMCA notice with your family and housemates.
If you were not the person downloading the content described in the notice, talk with the rest of your family/household using your internet connection.
It’s important to highlight and discuss two things:
- The pirating of free content and its equivalent of shoplifting or stealing
- How cybercriminals have chosen this as one of their favorite ways to easily infect users today.
Here at Abusix, we process both copyright and malware notices for our customers. There is a high correlation between those IPs that get copyright notices and those IP addresses that get malware notices. It’s not just fate; it’s causes and effect.
2. What if you, or none of our housemates, downloaded the file referenced in the letter?
If no one with access to the internet through your connection admits to having downloaded a file, then perhaps it could be a neighbor using your connection or a friend of your kids.
The fastest way to fix this security issue is to change your network password. If the password was generic, make it harder to crack in the future.
3. Run a virus scan.
If you can identify the computer used to download the illegal copyrighted content, run a virus on it. After that, it is prudent to run a virus scan on every machine behind the router. Infected machines will seek out all devices within a network to see if they can infect others. In the case of a computer worm, the infected machine could have easily infected every other machine.
Running a virus scan on every machine becomes urgent especially if anyone in the household uses any computers to work from home.
Not only could everyone in the network be infected as a result of the download of the file, but the “work at home” employees could now infect their enterprise network.
What started as a housemate trying to get a free movie may have morphed into a far bigger problem for everyone in the household—no bueno.
4. Respond to the letter.
You do not need to respond to the letter; just simply cease, or in other words, stop the activity.
But if you do see a copyright notice with a requirement to pay a fine, take the copyright claim seriously, but consider the payment demand a scam.
For example, when there was an HBO Game of Thrones infringement, emails were sent to the ISPs, which many ISPs forwarded according to law, demanding a $150 fee for the alleged copyright infraction from users.
There is no requirement in the law for such paid settlements, and your identity, while known to your ISP, is unknown to the Copyright owner.
Thus, Copyright owners will therefore not demand a payment from you because they would not be able to collect unless the courts demanded the ISP to reveal your identity, which they have not.
However, if the copyright owners notice a pattern and a rise in activity increases at a network provider, the copyright owner’s attorneys will take your ISP to court.
The court action the copyright holder will take will be to challenge your ISP’s Safe Harbor, making your ISP vulnerable to fines for copyright violations that you are creating. This loss of Safe Harbor has led to many court cases, which have awarded copyright holders millions to tens of millions of dollars from cases they have brought against network providers from ISPs, Telcos, Hosting Companies, and VPN providers for not enforcing the DMCA.
Rest assured, if you are a repeat offender, your network provider will take a very dim view of your activity and most will likely threaten termination of your service.
5. Responding with a counterclaim.
You may wish to file a counter-notice in the unusual, odd case where you have a commercial website and are hosting copyrighted content legitimately with permission. In these cases, look at this article from Nolo for how you might wish to respond.
So, stay safe and use only legitimate, secure content, and do not risk everyone in your network getting infected. Don’t be cheap and avoid paying for genuine content; it’s not worth the security risk to you and everyone else using your internet connection and the liability risk.
If you are a network provider and you are interested in finding out more about how to manage Copyright reports within your network in a way that protects your safe harbor, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.