If your company has received an accusation of copyright infringement related to a piece of content you’ve published, it’s natural to be alarmed. As you reread the notice, you’re probably wondering, “How do I respond to this copyright claim?” You know that you need to respond immediately — but how?
It’s a shock. You thought you had all the measures in place to avoid such a situation: compliance and legal reviews of all the content you produce, robust version control in your content management system, and stringent guidelines for your content teams. “How could this have slipped by?” you ask yourself.
Whether you’re facing a copyright infringement accusation or wondering what to do should such a situation occur in the future, you need an action plan in place to handle such claims. Here’s a quick guide to protecting your hard work from infringement claims.
Take a Breath… Is the Claim Even Real?
Before we dig into the meat of this topic, I first want to start with this… Over the years, we’ve had to contend with both real copyright claims and fake claims. Both can cause your heart to drop into your stomach. But it’s important to be aware that copyright claims are commonly used as phishing attacks when sent via email, or via a submission on a website “contact us” form.
In our experience, a fake claim is written to sound official and the scammers incorporate company names and website URLs to give the correspondence more legitimacy. But the giveaway is when they ask you to click some sort of link to either download the details of the claim, or they demand that you take immediate action by submitting personal details into some sort of copyright claim mitigation form.
DO NOT CLICK ANY LINKS without first checking to see where it’s taking you. If the link URL is just referencing (for example) a page on your company’s website that may be where the alleged copyright issue resides, then the claim is likely legit. Anything else you see could be spam (or worse).
Ok, with that one out of the way, let’s look at some other real copyright claim scenarios.
Was the Copyright Infringement Notice a DMCA Takedown?
The first option individuals and companies that believe someone has infringed their content’s copyright can take advantage of is a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice. It’s easy, involves no legal fees, and settles the issue without harm to either party, so long as the offending party removes the content from their publications.
With the DMCA, copyright owners can avoid the massive legal fees they could incur should they file a lawsuit. On the other hand, the DMCA gives individuals and corporations that inadvertently violate another’s intellectual rights enjoy protection from litigation.
DMCA takedown filers need only fill out a form on the website that allegedly infringed on their content, as well as the website’s host. On the form, filers state the URL they found their owned content on, a “description of how [they] own the content,” and proof that the alleged offender used their content illegally, as DMCA.com advises.
If you’ve received such a notice, you need to act now or risk legal action. Research the other party’s claims. If valid, remove the content immediately, and according to the DMCA, you will receive immunity from litigation.
However, if you believe the claim to be in error, the same law protects your interests. Although your website host will usually have removed your content immediately, you can submit a counter-notice to petition them to reinstate the disputed content onto your site.
After you receive a DMCA takedown notice from your website host, you need to act quickly. If you have definitive proof that you have not violated the other party’s claims, you can file a counter-notice with your website’s hosting provider.
If the other party does not respond to your counter-notice within 14 days after you send it, your website host must restore the disputed content to your website. However, if the other party files a lawsuit against you for copyright infringement, you’ll have to consult your corporate legal team.
Two caveats here, though.
- A counter-notice requires that you state under perjury your claim that your content is indeed your company’s own. If there’s any doubt, consult your legal counsel rather than going it alone. You don’t want to face perjury charges — and probably termination as well, should you make the wrong call.
- If you do decide to file a counter-notice, be sure that you have all the proof you need to back up your claim, since filing a counter-notice could prompt a lawsuit from the other party.
For those reasons, it’s always prudent to consult with your corporate legal team before acting to restore your content. While you might be the corporate expert regarding content, your legal team is likely more familiar with the complexity of copyright law than you.
What if the Other Party Escalates Their Infringement Claim?
At this point, you need to involve your company’s legal department beyond a mere consult. Since it’s not only you whose reputation is on the line — it’s your corporate brand itself — it’s critical that your legal team take immediate action, as Phillips Kaiser founding partner Gregory Phillips advises.
Even accidental copyright infringement might yield severe consequences for your company, as Phillips points out. Content curation without securing permission from the original owner is a line that “has become blurred,” according to Phillips.
With the internet making it so easy to share all types of content online, accidental infringement is on the rise in today’s digital age. For that reason, it’s crucial to put a fail-safe content review system in place to avoid the unpleasant experience of receiving a demand letter notifying you of an impending lawsuit.
However, Phillips says, don’t panic. Too often, he says, people contact the copyright owner to work something out as soon as they receive an infringement notice.
Unfortunately, the copyright owner can use your statements against you. Instead, remove the work temporarily while you seek legal counsel.
Then, provide your company’s legal team with all the facts that support your case. Answer your attorneys’ questions honestly, providing documentation for each step when possible. If someone other than you created the content in question, bring them with you to the meeting so that your legal counsel can understand their thought process as well.
If the dispute is about an image or other content asset that you’ve purchased a license to use, be sure to bring a copy of the license with you as well. Additionally, if you’ve received permission from the copyright owner, provide documentation that supports your claim.
Finally, remember that litigation will likely prove costly for copyright owners. They have an incentive to settle the case, so the earlier you consult your company’s legal team, the more likely you’ll be to achieve the best possible outcome.
How Can I Prevent Copyright Infringement in the First Place?
First, you need to familiarize yourself and your content teams with the basics of copyright law. All too many myths abound about what’s covered by copyright protection, so be sure to document your copyright infringement guidelines on the same platform your writers use to create content.
When in doubt, look it up or consult your company’s legal counsel. If your content platform has on-platform content collaboration capabilities, your writers won’t have to leave their project to get an answer to their legal questions.
Here are a few more tips to help you avoid breaking the copyright law.
Use a Plagiarism Detection Tool
Make sure that your creative talent has access to plagiarism detection tools. A pre-paid tool called Copyscape has been the gold standard for years, but if you’re using Writer’s AI content generation and governance platform, you can enjoy the same protection as part of your Writer subscription.
Make Other Departments Aware of Copyright Law
Even though your regular content teams might be on the alert for copyright law violations, your other teams might not. Provide leadership teams in other departments with the same guidelines you use so their employees won’t break the law by copying text from other content while writing reviews or doing other tasks.
Check Outsourced Content as Thoroughly as You Do Your Own Teams’ Work
Never assume that freelancers or creative talent at your content marketing agency are as aware of copyright law as you are. Provide them with your guidelines, and ensure that their content, too, goes through the same approval process as your in-house-produced content.
Cite All the Sources You Use in Your Content
Don’t assume that a fact or statistic is common knowledge. If you’re researching a topic and you come across some text or an image from another source that you want to incorporate, cite that source.
Use Metadata to Track License Expirations
If you pay to use a digital asset, such as an image or a piece of music, in your content, the license you paid for might expire. Be sure to list its expiration date in your content metadata so that your content teams know they need to renew the license before using it — or find another asset to use.
Tighten Up Your Content Governance to Boost Your Bottom Line
Copyright violations can put a deep dent in your content’s ROI. Reduce your chance of copyright infringement by tightening up your content governance processes.
When you have a content marketing platform on which you can park your content governance guidelines, your creative teams can consult those rules without leaving their work. DivvyHQ gives your content teams a single spot to plan, ideate, create, consult, get approvals on, publish, and analyze the results of your content.
Since visibility throughout the process is a key component of DivvyHQ’s platform, you can rest easy knowing that you can keep an eye on a project from the first spark of an idea to the moment of publication. Try DivvyHQ for 14 days absolutely free to see how easy it makes content governance. Start your free trial today!