What to Do When You Receive a Takedown Request
On Monday, YouTube filed a lawsuit against one of its users for extorting others through false copyright strikes; after submitting unverified copyright claims on videos, the user in question would demand a payment (like $300 by Paypal or $200 in Bitcoin) or threaten a third copyright strike on their account, which would mean termination from the platform altogether.
The problem isn’t just that this user extorted others (though that’s terrible, too); it’s that platforms like YouTube arguably don’t devote enough effort to validating these claims, meaning users can freely submit takedown requests as a means of threatening other accounts. Since the platform may not be vetting these enough themselves, what should you do if you receive a takedown request? Well, it’s a long and complicated road, even if you do own the rights to the content. For now, just the world we live in. But all that said, here’s how you can protect yourself:
What is a takedown request?
As UpCounsel writes on its website, a takedown request—sometimes referred to as a Digital Millenium Copyright Act takedown notice—is a notice provided to a web host, company, search engine, infringing party or internet service provider that they are hosting or linking to copyrighted material. This copyrighted material could include artwork, photos, videos, written words, etc. (You may have even received one from your internet service provider for torrenting movies or music.)
These requests can be sent without oversight by an attorney, meaning you or I could send one to a company claiming copyright infringement. To any person without a full understanding of copyright law, the threat of legal action or losing their accounts entirely can be highly intimidating. And with this power comes a great potential for abuse—back in 2014, Gizmodo reported on the website AshleyMadison.com, which had user data leaked by hackers, threatening websites with DMCA requests to protect the names and other details of its users.
“Ashley Madison is using the DMCA in a way that it was never designed to be used in order to suppress reporting on the issue,” Andy Sellars at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society told Gizmodo at the time. “I think it’s a rather clean-cut case here. I think there’s clearly not infringement in these cases.”
According to Faiza Javaid, G/O Media’s deputy general counsel, the takedown notice should be sent by the copyright holder or that holder’s agent; Gizmodo has an example of one of Ashley Madison’s website’s takedown notices. (UpCounsel also has a template version on its website.) At the time of the report by Gizmodo, at least three websites received takedown notices and only one maintained the data on its website after receiving the notice.
As the DMCA writes on its website, typically, either the infringing party or the internet service provider will receive such a request and may take down the content. (Yes, your ISP can take down content if it receives notice and before you have a chance to plead your case.)
How do you determine if the request is legitimate?
If you’ve clearly infringed upon a copyright—for instance, by posting a photo without permission from the photographer—then your options are limited. You could remove the photo or risk further legal action (and needless to say it’s a lot easier to remove the photo than to hire an attorney). YouTube, however, may take down a video without your consent in response to a takedown request.
But there are lots and lots of exceptions, circumstances, and grey areas. As Gizmodo writes, you should ask yourself first: Is the material even copyrightable?
If your content falls under public domain, for example, you should be able to post it wi