The theft of intellectual property rights enabled by the Internet is growing to alarming rates. The primary concerns are digital piracy and the sale of counterfeit goods, and even medicines. For example, see Counterfeiting Costs US Businesses $200 Billion Annually and US Trade Representative Issues Annual Report on Global IP Rights. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves and try and pretend that the lack of respect for intellectual property rights is limited to those who seek to share movies, music or make a buck selling knock-off products. Everyone who produces original content on the Internet is at risk of having that content stolen; simply cut and pasted onto some other website or blog. Even if it is not passed off as original content and you do get “credit” the copyist is using your work for their own benefit. They are stealing eyeballs, diverting traffic and likely costing you money. At the very least, they are free riding, which is a hard pill to swallow.
Mark Monitor, a leader in enterprise brand protection, recently released a study titled Traffic Report: Online Piracy and Counterfeiting. In this report some mind boggling statistics are revealed.
- The top-three websites classified in the digital piracy piracy category collectively generate more than 21 billion visits per year.
- North America and Western Europe are the host location for 67% of the sites classified under the digital piracy category.
- The combined traffic to the 48 sites selling counterfeit goods is more than 240,000 visits per day on average or more than 87 million visits per year.
- The combined traffic to the 26 sites selling counterfeit prescription drugs is more than 141,000 visits per day on average or more than 51 million visits per year.
- The combined traffic to the 21 e-commerce sites selling counterfeit luxury goods is more than 98,000 visits per day on average or almost 36 million visits per year.
There is no doubt that copyright infringement and trademark infringement is rampant and increasingly difficult to police thanks to the disparate nature of the Internet.
There are things you can do, however, if you are a creator of original content online. In the United States the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, more commonly known as the DMCA, gives copyright owners the right to send “takedown notices” to those who are infringing upon the owner’s copyrights. Essentially, if someone has take your original work and posted it to their website without your approval you can pressure the web host company to take down the material. Web hosts enjoy broad immunity from lawsuit in the United States for copyright infringement provided they act swiftly to remove infringing content once they are made aware of the existence of the content by the copyright owner. The loss of this immunity makes web hosting companies act exceptionally quickly. DMCA takedown notices are extremely successful.
What you have to do to send a notice isn’t particularly difficult, but the entire process can be time consuming, particularly for those new to the process. On top of that, who really wants to have to set out to send a DMCA takedown notice? I know from experience that it always seems that someone has copied your work shamelessly and is infringing when it is most inconvenient. It is never a good time to be diverted from your business, but taking the time to prepare and send the letter is time not spent on your core business. I am always amazed at how much time it eats up when I have to send a DMCA take down notice, which I have to do about once every other month it seems. And when I am sending those letters I am rather mad and not in the best frame of mind, so it eats at me for even longer.
There are some services that have started to help individuals and businesses streamline their DMCA take down processes, including DMCA.com. DMCA.com provides do-it-yourself help for DMCA take downs starting at $10 per month. They also offer what they call Professional Take Downs, where you give them some basic information and they do it for you. If you use a Professional Take Down it runs about $199 and comes with a money back guarantee which promises your content will be taken down within 5 days. Not that you shouldn’t use a lawyer, but I do think it is fair to say that a lawyer would charge more than $199. I know I would.
In addition to the do-it-yourself and professional take down packages, DMCA.com also allows you to post a free badge on your website which lets people know that the site is protected by DMCA.com, that you are claiming all rights to your copyrighted work, and to let them know about the requirements of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Perhaps this will scare some folks away, which is always nice. It is free, and free is always good.
DMCA.com even says that they can help those who are seeking to have personal photos, videos or emails posted without permission removed. They tell me they have been very successful at getting this kind of material removed.
It is unfortunate that we need to have laws the regulate what happens when someone posts infringement material on the Internet, but the truth is the Internet largely remains a wild-west in the mind of most. Things ordinary people would never say or do in the real world are done and said on the Internet without regard. Whether you want to use a service like DMCA.com or you just want to do it all on your own doesn’t matter. Just know that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is there to help you and is a very effective way of getting things removed from the Internet. Just don’t abuse the process because if you lie and send an unwarranted take down notice there can be negative consequences.