Are You Avoiding Copyright Infringement?


Today we're talking about two real life examples (and there's probably a million more) of how you can save thousands of dollars, relieve giant headaches, avoid viruses and computer hacks into your system, and tackle other problems by simply having the proper document in place. I am going to tell you what this document is, what needs to be in it, and how to use it.

The Dangers of Spam

We are going to be looking at copyright laws, specifically copyright laws on the internet. In my business and in my wife's practice, we routinely get a message through our contact page, or someone might email us out of the blue, saying that they have noticed we have a copyright infringement. Here is an example from a recent email I received,

"Hi, this is Melinda, and I'm a certified illustrator.

I was surprised, frankly speaking, when I came across my images at your web-site (sic). If you use a copyrighted image without my permission, you need to be aware that you could be sued by the copyright holder.

It's against the law to use stolen images, and it's so nasty.

Take a look at this document with the links to my images you used at and my earlier publications to get evidence of my legal copyrights.

Download it now and check this out for yourself." 


"If you don't remember the images mentioned in the document, within the next several days, I'll write a complaint against you to your hosting provider, stating that my copyrights have been infringed, and how I'm trying to protect my intellectual property. And if that doesn't work, you can be pretty damn sure I'm going to report and sue you, and I will not bother myself to let you know of it in advance."

This message is pretty intense. Reading that, you might be tempted to actually click on the link, and maybe download it, thinking, "Oh no! I've infringed somebody's copyright, and they're gonna sue me! They're gonna report me! What do I do?" ...Thankfully, in my business and in my wife's practice, we've taught people to just let me know, as General Counsel. We taught our staff, and my wife knows that if there are any communications that have to do with copyright law issues to just forward them to me. I have found that the course of action for this can be quite simple.

Know Proper Protocol 

Rather than click on the link, I knew with confidence that we had a Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notice on our website and Terms and Conditions. And I know that if you're going to do a takedown notice (which I will discuss in this blog as well), you have to follow the rules in the DMCA takedown notice. So, I emailed this person back. I didn't click on her email, and I certainly didn't click on a link; instead, I just copied and pasted her email into my recipients' area, and typed, "Hi, Melinda. We have a DMCA takedown notice policy, and you can find it here. When you submit your request that way, we'll take a better look at this."

And to no one's surprise, when I sent that email, the email address was undeliverable, which really confirmed the fact that it was probably spam. Additionally, it confirmed that having those steps in place -- knowing what this was, knowing how to use it, and then knowing how to react when something came up -- saved us at least a virus but probably a lot worse. We could have even been dealing with potential hacking that could lead to HIPAA breaches, which could mean a lot of fines and other headaches.

That similar inquiry came up last week from one of our members at Functional Lawyer. Note that our membership includes all of our documents, or more importantly, access to me through weekly office hours. That includes quick email support, as in this case, and one-on-one calls as well. On top of that, there's lots of educational content in pre-recorded format with downloads, checklists, and more inside the membership area, so if that's something that appeals to you, check that out. That being said, one of our members reached out to me with a similar question; he received a takedown notice and wondered what he should do and wondered if it could be spam. So I told them the story that I told you. I said, "Don't click on any links. Send them an email telling them to see your DMCA takedown notice policy in your terms and conditions, and then see what happens after that. If they comply with that, then it might be a real person having a real issue. But if they don't, then you can mark it off as spam." Following this protocol will save you from a potential virus, save you from unintentionally causing any HIPAA breaches, and save yourself all the headaches that accompany those two things.

What Exactly is the DMCA?

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a federal law passed in 1998, and it's designed to basically curtail piracy or stealing of intellectual property on the internet. A very common example is when someone will use a song or an image from Disney or another copyrighted work, and they'll put it on YouTube or Facebook. Before 1998, there was no recourse. But now, DMCA requires places like YouTube, Facebook , or website owners like you to have a provision somewhere that allows copyright owners to notify the owner of the website that they're infringing on their work, and how to take it down or make a request for a takedown.

Your DMCA Takedown Notice

You should have your DMCA takedown notice within your Terms and Conditions.  People are always asking me why they need Terms and Conditions, and a DMCA takedown notice is just one reason why you should have a Terms and Conditions on your website. You should also include the rules regarding who to send the email to and what they have to include in the email. For example, they should probably include a screenshot as opposed to, or in addition to, a clickable link. Be clear in how to email, and state that you will review it and will get back to the accusing party.

Always Ask!

In this case, again, by following the proper steps, we saved a bunch of money. My client/member saved a virus from happening and probably some money as well. This is the power of having the right forms, knowing what's in them, and how to react. If you're focused on your practice as you should be in being a good provider, it's crucial to have someone to turn to for you to ask the right questions. Nobody knows everything. As you can see, our members did the right thing; they turned to me to ask me the question, and then I gave them the proper response, while saving them a bunch of headaches, viruses, and money.

Do You Have the Proper Documents?

If you don't have a Terms and Conditions on your website, you absolutely need one. That's one of the main things I look for when I talk to new practices. Not only do you look more professional, but having it in place can also save a bunch of money down the road. In DMCA cases like the aforementioned, it protects people from copyright infringement. Even more accurately, it allows for copyright owners to have their copyrighted works taken off of pirating websites or websites for which content users can upload them. For example, if the owner of a website puts the image they found on Google at the top of their blog, then that picture owner/the license holder for that picture has a way or recourse to reach out and ask to take it down.

The main takeaway for you as a website owner is that ought to have protection statements on your website in your Terms and Conditions. If you don't have those, you can get them at Functional Lawyer, along with a website privacy policy and website disclaimer, which you also need so that you can further protect yourself. And, again, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act protects against stealing other people's property on the internet. If you have it in your terms and conditions, you'll know how to react if someone sends you a real request or, more likely, a spam or fake request as well.  If you want more information on how that works and how you can access me as part of the Membership, you can click the link below.


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