How to protect your music from piracy
Back story: In 1998, Congress passed a bill to protect copyrights for music, movies, and other media in the rapidly digitizing US called the Digital Media Copyright Act, or the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, usually referred to as DMCA. President Clinton stamped a solid “HELL YES” on the bill and it was a law. The magic of legislation!
Since then, there have been a number of high profile cases involving musicians (among others) citing DMCA to fight against internet piracy. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the law, mostly centered around the argument that it could potentially unfairly hinder fair use and stifle competition between companies. The truth is, the DMCA is a fairly complex, multi-faceted law with a great number of provisions for a whole range of scenarios.
After 15 years under DMCA, we could spend days (and trust me, enough people have) picking it apart and examining the intentions of the law versus how it’s actually functioned in practice.
But that’s not why we’re here. The goal right now is to demystify this beast of a law, and look at how exactly to make it work for you in the event you find someone unlawfully using your music.
Set up a Google Alert for yourself/your band
This is a pretty basic, but indispensible first step in keeping tabs on where your music is popping up and how it’s being used. Very often, this is how artists first become aware that someone is infringing on their copyright.
Have a “takedown notice” ready at all times
In most cases of run-of-the-mill copyright infringement, sending the owner of the website a “DMCA takedown notice” will alert them either to the fact that they’re using your content illegally (if they didn’t know already) or to the fact that you know they’re ripping you off. Either way, most violating situations are quickly resolved by sending one of these notifications via email. These things are usually pretty black and white, and it’s unlikely that the website owner cares enough, or thinks they have enough of a case, to actually challenge you in court.
There are several sources online that have handy templates for these types of notices. Having a Google Alert to help you find instances of infringement, and a DMCA notice ready to fire at any time, will make dealing with these annoying little issues minimally time-consuming in most circumstances.
Be sure where the content originates
You might come across a site that merely links to another website where your content is actually hosted. It helps to note this distinction because, while you can certainly ask the linking site to take the link down, you’ll get more impact for your efforts if you focus on removing the content from the originating website. Of course, some of the most infamous DMCA court cases have involved sites like The Pirate Bay and Mininova, who don’t host original content, they just provided links. Either way, it’s not the best. Can’t hurt to send them all takedown notices.
If you hear nothing back from the website owner and the content is still there
It’s usually pretty easy to figure out which hosting service (like WordPress, Tumblr, etc.) is housing the offending site. If you send a heads up to the owner of the website where your content appears, and they don’t get back to you or refuse to take the content down, go over their heads to the hosting service. The last thing these companies want is to get involved in some tedious legal situation, so you can feel confident they will be responsive. Most often, they’ll suspend the website in violation, which will typically force the owner to break their silence and actually deal with you/take down your copyrighted music. People have a way of suddenly remembering how to check their email once their website is suddenly taken offline. Funny how that works.
If you’ve done all the digging you can and followed the chain of ownership and basically can’t get anyone to talk to you/take down your music
Then it might be time to talk to a lawyer. It’s a bummer, I know. Fortunately, the vast majority of these situations are resolved way before things have to get litigious. For the most part, being proactive about knowing where your copyrighted music appears, and quickly taking steps to ask violating websites to take things down, will keep you in a good place with all of this.