What is DMCA? When Should You Take Action?

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. This is the opinion of one person who has been blogging a long time, and working with other bloggers for almost as long.

As bloggers, many of us have shared this experience: You’re cruising around the internet and then happen upon your OWN post or your OWN image on someone else’s site!

This is always jarring, but what do you do about it?

Likely, the best answer is… nothing. I can hear the gasps from those of you wanting to take DMCA-related action. I get it, but I want you to try and see a different perspective.

What is DMCA?

DMCA stands for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a U.S. copyright law giving citizens the ability to file a claim against someone violating their copyright and getting that content taken down.

Again, not a lawyer, but you can read all about it here

birds eye view of a man's hands typing on a laptop computer

How do bloggers use the DMCA?

In the blogging world, people file DMCA claims against various entities in several types of circumstances. Among them: 

1. Content Scrapers

Content scrapers are websites that crawl, or scrape, your entire post and republish it — obviously without permission.

Sometimes, this includes a backlink to you and sometimes it does not, but that token credit has nothing to do with the legality of posting someone else’s content on your site. 

It has everything to do with whether or not you want to begin the process of getting it removed.

Bottom line: 

You always need permission to publish someone else’s content. If you’re using other people’s content, to truly cover your bases, this permission should be written. 

Of course content scrapers don’t care about laws or permission, because they’re by definition lifting content without permission. As such, these are cases where DMCA can be strongly considered.

With that said, there’s a distinction between taking action in response to flagrant cases and proactively going hunting for stolen content with the intent of filing DMCA takedown requests. 

Why? What’s the difference?

Honestly, it comes down to time and resources. There are only so many hours in the day and if something’s taking away from work you could be doing on your site, it should be worthwhile.

It is my strong belief that in almost all instances, your time is better spent creating new content, improving old content or promoting existing content than chasing down content thieves. 

Yes, those thieves deserve all the shaking-fist emojis in the world, and of course there are exceptions where you should act. But by and large, those exceptions are few and far between.

2. Unauthorized Roundups 

Back in the days of yore (the early-mid ’00s), roundups used to be a thing.

People didn’t think about permissions, copyright or any of that in the wild western frontier of Ye Olde Internet. That time has long passed. Anytime bloggers want to use other people’s content or images, for whatever reason, they need to reach out.

Typically this permission is granted via Facebook roundup request groups.

If you have participated in roundup groups and given permission for your content to be included in them, you should NOT be filing DMCA requests for websites who use your content.

If you are in a roundup group and find links on a request that isn’t yours, don’t use those links without permission. The permission in these groups is not given on a blanket, carte-blanche basis.

It is specific to the site that’s asking for links. If you are a person that is very sensitive to the use of your content, you should probably not be submitting to roundup groups at all.

Regardless, keep a list of posts you’ve granted permission for, and to whom. Reach out to them, or ditch the roundups if they’re more trouble then they’re worth, but table that DMCA request.

3. Pin Thievery 

This is a hot topic in the blogging world currently.

People are routinely reporting Pinterest pins that are stolen — and various advice surrounding this practice and what to do about it. It has become widespread, and advice differs greatly depending on who you ask. 

Whether or not you should search for and pursue stolen pins is a very personal decision, and is different than filing a DMCA with a hosting company to take them down — which is another step entirely. 

My personal opinion that this is largely the same as the rest. Your time is likely better spent elsewhere. If you devote more than 15-20 minutes a week to this task, it’s probably too much.

Should I Talk to a Lawyer About DMCA?

To recap, copyright infringement is a serious legal matter, and if you believe your business is being legitimately hurt as a result of it, you should reach out to a lawyer with questions.

The DMCA is also a serious matter, and should be used intentionally and responsibly. It’s there for an important reason, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only solution to every problem.

If you are spending significant amounts of time thinking about this, I’d encourage you to weigh the benefits of taking legal action instead of focusing on content and audience curation.

Content scrapers rarely stick around long, because scraping is a flawed model. These sites rarely threaten your SEO results. Google is smart enough to know which post is the original.

Your feelings on the subject are legitimate, and please know I share them.

But putting emotions aside can yield better results in terms of traffic and revenue growth in the long haul.