What to do when you find your song or film pirated on YouTube

The Internet opens up things never previously imagined, and that includes widespread online copyright infringement. Someone can take a video, clip, movie, television show, or even an original song and monetize it on YouTube in just a few simple clicks.

What can you do if you find something you made uploaded to a streaming site?

Is it copyright infringement?

Before you do anything, make sure this is actually copyright infringement. First, ensure sure your video has actually been copied. Many websites will embed your original video uploaded to YouTube, and actually directs traffic and ad dollars back to you. Second, make sure you created the entire video. If your video was actually a clip from a movie, there’s a chance you don’t own that video. Third, could the use of your video be protected by fair use? If someone copied a small part of your video, added commentary to it, or even changed it, there’s a chance they can use it under fair use. My favorite example has always been turning a short section of a news clip into a viral song. Here, a small piece of someone’s video was copied and transformed into something completely different. The Copyright Office has a lot of background information on copyright.

Digital piracy is mostly covered under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or the DMCA. This law is about 20 years old, and has not been updated to stay on top of changes with the Internet. It is far from perfect, but does allow you some powerful legal tools. The best part of this law is the safe-harbor provisions, which saves websites from the threat of an expensive copyright lawsuit if they takedown an infringing video when notified. Many websites will have this takedown notice on the video layout itself, or on a link on the bottom of the page. This has become a common requirement when registering and hosting a website, and you find a copyright takedown email address on the website or the ICANN WHOIS search, even on most foreign websites.

What to include in a DMCA takedown notice

If you have found the contact information, you need to send them six things:
  1. A physical or electronic signature of the owner or their agent;
  2. Information on your video, usually including the title, the length of the video, a short description of the video, and even a link to a legal copy;
  3. Information on the infringing copy, including the listed title and URL;
  4. Your contact information, such as email address, telephone number, and address;
  5. A statement that you have a a good faith belief that use of your video authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law; and
  6. A statement that the takedown notice is accurate, under penalty of perjury.
It’s one of the quickest, easiest, and most successful legal options in the world. YouTube and others will take down infringing copies in a few hours, and even smaller piracy havens will remove copyright infringement within a few days. Tougher targets, like foreign websites, and even United States-based websites used to store pirated material, can be far less responsive. It does not allow you to reclaim any damages against the copyright pirate, and applies only to material uploaded by users, and not the website itself.

When takedown notices don’t work

There are still multiple options available to remove copyright infringement before filing a potentially costly lawsuit, but should be left to a qualified attorney. If interested in protecting your copyrights online, contact our attorneys below. Spengler & Agans offers a flat-rate legal checkup for startups and business needing a broad, overall legal review of their business and business practices.
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