What is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act?
Passed in 1998, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a federal law designed to protect copyright holders from online theft resulting from the distribution or reproduction of their works without permission. The DMCA covers not only images, but music, movies, writing, and any intellectual property that is copyrighted.
Copyright infringement can lead to issues with online reputation as well as lost revenues. It's even made its way into the evolving world of artificial intelligence. Comedian Sarah Silverman is suing the company behind ChatGPT for copyright infringement because, the lawsuit asserts, the company illegally used the content of her book to fuel their large language model (LLM).
The law allows those who believe their copyrights have been violated to file a request known as a "takedown request" with internet entities such as:
- Hosting companies
How can a DMCA takedown be used?
A DMCA takedown can be used to remove content from Google or from websites. The law was specifically created to deal with copyright (it's right there in the name of the law), and not defamation or related legal issues.
What is "fair use"
Not all copyrighted information can be removed. "Fair use" allows for the limited use of copyrighted material without getting the owner's permission. It's intended to balance the interests of the copyright owners with the public interest when using creative works. Fair use can be a little tricky, though.
Under the DMCA, fair use is considered when determining whether a use of copyrighted material is an infringement or not. The DMCA provides a safe harbor for certain online service providers who host, for example, user-generated content – as long as they promptly remove infringing content upon receiving a valid DMCA takedown notice.
However, the DMCA also allows filing of a counter-notice by the user who posted the content, that asserts that the use of the material was, in fact, fair use. If the copyright owner doesn't file a lawsuit within a specific time period, the copyrighted material can be restored to the website.
It's important to understand that fair use is a sophisticated legal concept, and there is no one-size-fits-all definition. The determination of fair use depends on many factors, including the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work itself, the amount and substantiality of the portion of the work used, and the effect of the use on the potential market for the owner of the copyrighted work.
Removing search results from Google for copyright
Google suggests before you file that, you ask yourself three questions:
- Are you the copyright owner of the work?
- Do you have permission to access all third-party material used in the work from the appropriate copyright owner(s)?
- Should your use of any copyrighted material be considered fair use, fair dealing, or qualify for an exception under the applicable copyright law?
Requesting DMCA removal from Google
Remember that Google is not removing the actual material. It is only removing it from the search results, and if someone visits the original page that hosts the infringing material, it is still present and accessible.
Google has a DMCA Dashboard that will help you file the complaint. You must have a Google account to file the complaint, and aside from the specifics of the filing, that’s all the information you'll need.
In order to show users what is and isn't actionable, Google even lists some cases where they had declined to remove the material:
- A driving school filed a request against another school because they had "had copied an alphabetized list of cities and regions where instruction was offered."
- In another case, a woman claimed her name was copyrightable and should thereby be removed from posted court records.
- A U.S. company filed a request to remove search results that linked to an employee's blog postings about unjust and unfair treatment.
If a removal request is successful, but the website owner who had been hosting the material in question believes they were not in the wrong, they can file a counterclaim. If Google believes the initial decision was incorrect, they will reinstate the link.
Types of content that can be removed from Google
Google keeps a fairly short list of the types of content that it will remove from search results. In addition to illegal or protected information such as child sexual abuse images, certain medical and financial information, and government identification, one of these is intellectual property. This includes trademarks, copyrights, patents, trade secrets, and other proprietary rights.
Here are some examples of what Google considers as commonly misappropriated copyrighted content:
- Cover art for music albums, video games, and books
- Music or film clips
- Marketing images from movies, television, or video games
- Artwork or images from comic books, cartoons, movies, music videos, or television
Google search result removals have grown exponentially over the years. As Google indexes more content and people rely more on search results, the requests to remove these results go up. At any given time, Google can be handling billions of requests.
DMCA takedowns for websites
Most people tend to go right for Google when doing a DMCA takedown. But, as mentioned above, Google only removes the search result, not the actual content, from the infringing website. Do really remove it; go to the website first.
Websites that allow user-generated content, such as social media platforms, video-sharing websites, and file-hosting services, are typically the types of websites that will take down copyrighted information due to a DMCA takedown request.
Examples include YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Dropbox, and Google Drive. Additionally, websites that host online marketplaces, such as eBay and Amazon, may also be subject to DMCA takedown requests if they allow third-party sellers to list infringing products.
It's important to note that the process for submitting a request may vary depending on the website or online service.
Information needed for a DMCA takedown
To process a DMCA takedown, the copyright owner must provide the online service provider with specific information, including the URL where the copyrighted material is being displayed, the original URL of the material, and a reason why the content should be removed using a DMCA takedown. The online service provider is then required to remove the infringing content or risk liability for copyright infringement.
Can information that is not copyrighted be removed using a DMCA takedown request?
Generally, no. Information that is not copyrighted cannot be removed using a DMCA takedown request. The DMCA was designed to protect copyrighted material, so the takedown process was specifically designed to address copyright infringement.
If the content in question is not copyrighted, then a DMCA takedown request would not be appropriate. Still, there may be other legal avenues available to address non-copyright-related situations. These might include defamation, privacy violations, or trademark infringement. For these matters, it's important to consult with a qualified attorney to determine the appropriate course of action for addressing any legal issues related to online content.
Copyright infringement FAQs
What is copyright law?
Copyright serves as your protection against the theft of your intellectual property. The U.S. government defines it as a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.
How do I get infringing written material, such as blogs, taken down?
Find out who is the publisher of the site and reach out to them. In a professional manner, explain the situation, show your proof, and request they remove the infringing material. If this doesn't work, turn to Google and file a take-down request.
How do I remove copyrighted content from Google?
You can remove search results from Google by filing a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) complaint against the site. Google has a DMCA Dashboard that will help you file the complaint.
What is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act?
The DMCA is a US federal law that protects individuals and their digital property from online theft and misuse. The passage allowed for people to file take-down notices with companies like Google in the case of copyright infringements.
What types of things can be deleted from Google search results?
In addition to copyright infringements in conjunction with the DMCA, Google policy violations include items that violate the law, such as child sexual abuse images, certain financial information and government identification, and images of signatures and confidential personal medical records.
Note: Reputation X is not a law firm.
About the author
Kent Campbell is the chief strategist for Reputation X, an award-winning reputation management agency based in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Kent has over 15 years of experience with SEO reputation management, Wikipedia editing, review management, and strategy. Kent has helped celebrities, leaders, executives, and marketing professionals improve the way they are seen online. Kent writes about reputation, SEO, Wikipedia, and PR-related topics, and is an expert witness for reputation-related legal matters. You can find Kent's biography here.