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How to Report Stolen Website Content: DMCA Guide and Tips

What is the DMCA?

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a United States copyright law that implements two 1996 treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It criminalizes the production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures (commonly known as digital rights management or DRM) that control access to copyrighted works.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

“Someone Stole My Content!”

You arrive on a website, are just poking around or reading, and familiarity kicks in — big time.

“That’s my content — I wrote that!”

I made the graphic; how did they get it?”

“No one contacted me asking permission to use my copyright-protected work!”

Even if you disable the ability to right-click and save, it is still easy to copy content and images. Those so inclined know how to still get at your copyright-protected content and images.

It is infuriating to find your photos or content on other websites without your permission. But, before you do anything, calm down. The last thing you want to do is file a formal complaint while you are upset, as you need to be the professional in the room.

The good news is that there is a process for you to lodge formal complaints that can result in stolen content being taken down. Sometimes this process can even result in the entire site being shut down. While it takes a little work, it’s worth every minute to stop someone from benefiting from my hard work.

Documenting the Theft

The moment you discover stolen content, the first thing you want to do is document the situation. Take screenshots of the offending site. Make sure the URL bar and your monitor’s time-date stamp are visible.

You want to do this to have indisputable proof of what you’ve found before making any formal complaints. Not sure how to do this? Check your browser for “screenshot” apps.

Find Out Who Hosts the Website

Now that we have a URL that has stolen your content, we need to find out who owns it, where it is registered, and where it is hosted. You can use the ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) WHOIS service.

WHOIS is named accordingly. Every domain registrar has a WHOIS service that will tell you “Who Is” the owner and where the domain is registered and hosted via the DNS nameservers.

Many companies shield their information for security reasons to avoid spam and identity theft. We’ll cover that next. Regardless, print out the results so that you have those on hand.

What if the domain Contacts are hidden with a privacy service?

Those who plan on stealing content try to hide behind privacy services so that you cannot “see” where they are hosting to file a complaint. But that’s a futile attempt as privacy services have DMCA pages too. Furthermore, just because your content info is hidden doesn’t mean you can steal others’ copyright-protected works.

These services do not exist to protect the contact information of individuals where claims of illegal or unethical activities have been made against them. Look for the Trademark and Copyright Infringement Policy for the filing process to expose those who do not respect other’s copyrights.

You can also try running the offending domain through Hosting Checker. Take screenshots of those results too.

How to File a DMCA Complaint

Every hosting company has a DMCA policy and a directions page just for official complaints of theft of copyright-protected collateral. However, before filing a formal complaint, you must ensure the following is in order and available. Here is an example from WPEngine.

Section 512(c) of the DMCA requires that a notice include all of the following to be valid:

  • A physical or electronic signature of a person authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed;
  • Identification of the copyrighted work claimed to have been infringed, or if multiple copyrighted works at a single site are covered by a single notification, a representative list of such works at that site;
  • Identification of the material that is claimed to be infringing or to be the subject of infringing activity and that is to be removed or access to which is to be disabled, and information reasonably sufficient to permit WP Engine to locate the material;
  • Information reasonably sufficient to contact you, such as an address, telephone number, and email address;
  • A statement that you have a good faith belief that the use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law;
  • A statement that the information in the notification is accurate and under penalty of perjury, that you are the copyright owner or authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.

DMCA Online Forms

Some providers have an email address where you can provide the above. Others offer a convenient form that requires the following:

  • Name of the Copyright holder.
  • Location (URL) of the unauthorized material on the provider’s service. Not just the primary URL but each URL where offending content resides, such as post, page, or media file URLs.
  • Describe the copyrighted work so that it may be easily identified.
  • Location (URL) of copyrighted work (where your original material is located, not the offending material).

You can only complain about one website at a time. Therefore, if you find your work on different sites, you must file a separate complaint about each website.


Do other countries have a DMCA?

  • CANADA: Canada does have a “Canadian” version of the DMCA takedown. It is called The Notice and Notice regime, and it came into effect on January 2, 2015, as part of the Copyright Modernization Act of Canada. The Canadian Notice and Notice process is very different than the USA’s implemented version of the DMCA Takedown Notice.
  • EU AND UK: If the website owner or host company is registered within the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK), you may have to use the EU E-Commerce takedown notice forms.
  • INDIA: If the website owner or host company is registered within India, you may have to use the takedown Notice forms based on Rule 75 of the Copyright Act of India 2013.

“This is way too complicated for me!”

I get it. All the legal statements and requirements can be intimidating. It is even more complicated if the offending websites are not in the United States. In those cases, get used to crying “Uncle!”.

Check out a professional DMCA service for those who want some help, including tracking your site’s content. DMCA services provide the appropriate templates/forms for complaints within Canada, EU, UK, and India for you to DIY, or they can handle that for you.

DMCA services is the one stop shop for all your DMCA & internet copyright needs and provides its customers with a variety of tools to help detect and defend theft that has occurred and prevent it from occurring in the future.

Don’t Forget Ad Networks.

Another option to explore is onliners who scrape content from other sites generally do so to get ad revenue from Google’s AdSense and other similar networks. For example, if AdSense is displayed on the offending website, click the little blue arrow at the top/right of the ad. Then “Ad Choices” in the scraper site’s AdSense ad unit.

On the resulting Google web page, scroll down to where it says:

  • Leave feedback on the website or ad you just saw
  • The issue(s) were with:
    • the website
    • the ads

Choose “the website” and file a complaint. Other ad services/networks provide the same opportunity as they do not want their ads displayed on sites run by unethical copyright and trademark infringers.

Let’s Recap

  • Immediately screen capture and document what you find on the infringing website.
  • Print out the WHOIS record for the offending website(s).
  • Ensure you have the information and statements, as noted above, ready.
  • Communicate like a professional leaving emotion out of your formal complaint.
  • Also, lodge complaints with advertising networks visible on the offending website.
  • If you are unsure about doing it right, subscribe to a professional service to help you out.

I do not hesitate to immediately document and lodge formal complaints against anyone who takes and displays my content without my express permission to do so. Use the rights you have at your disposal to put these unseemly onliners in their place.

There is nothing like checking back on their status to get a 404 (not found) or discovering that the entire website is offline. Now go get ’em!

At your service,

Judith: WordPress Consultant and Coach

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