If you’ve dealt with content theft, you’ve probably sent a DMCA notice at least once. With most of the hosts currently residing in the U.S., DMCA notices are common even for copyright holders out of the U.S.
But even though the process of sending a notice is practically universal, how it is dealt with can vary wildly. Some hosts seem to ignore them, others act immediately and most lie somewhere in between.
This raises the question: How long should it take for a host to act on a DMCA notice?
The law is very vague and hosts themselves seem to disagree, but there are a few ways to get a rough idea.
What the Law Says
If you’re looking for clarity in this matter, the law itself is not likely the place you want to look.
The law, in §512(c) says that hosting providers should work to “expeditiously” remove infringing material after they receive proper notification. There are no hard deadlines set and the term itself gives hosts a great deal of breathing room to decide for themselves what “expeditious” means.
What this means in the field is that there is a wide range of response times from almost instantly, when dealing with sites such as YouTube, and several weeks, such as many Microsoft DMCA notices. This is due to a variety of situations including different amounts of legal risk, financial situations and hosting structures.
For example, YouTube was able to construct an almost-instant takedown system due to the its structure (only one site, one media kind and all files easily identified) and was pressured to do so by its legal wrangling. Microsoft, on the other hand, has many different sites, multiple kinds of media and less legal incentive. Thus, investigation time takes longer and their incentive to invest in it is weakened.
As a result, there is a huge disparity between how the two handle such notices and it is unclear where the line for “expeditious” is drawn.
What Is Most Common
So what is the most common time frame for a DMCA notice to be handled? Having worked with many dozens of Web hosts it’s very hard to pin down a good average as they tend to be so varied. I’ve seen them handled as quickly as 20 minutes and as long as a month. But there does seem to be a common “hot zone” for when the content is likely to go down.
For most Web hosts, including paid domain hosts and free ones (such as social networks), that zone seems to be 24-72 hours. Very few seem to go down within one day of the notice and, after 72 hours, the likelihood of it going down at all begins to drop. After about 96-120 hours, the likelihood becomes almost zero.
However, there are exceptions to the rule. One possibility is that the host allows its users the chance to remove the content themselves to avoid being banned outright. If that is the case, the host will likely give the owner to the account 48-72 hours to take the content down, making it so that, with time to process the claim, it could be well over 96 hours, even on a fast-acting host.
Also, there are cases where the DMCA notice is sent to the the datacenter operator but has to be forwarded on to the actual operator of the server, who in turn has to deal with their customer. This happens routinely when you have sites such as Hostgator, which hosts their servers in ThePlanet’s datacenter. That process can greatly slow down a notice.
Finally, you always have to account for weekends, holidays and other days where the DMCA agent might be out of the office. After all, save in a few cases, these notices are professed by human beings that, for the most part, work traditional hours and days.
Another way to look at is to take a glance at the tools that track copyright infringement. They typically allow their users to monitor a takedown notice for compliance and set up some form of an alarm for when compliance is not reached after X number of days.
The default setting for most of these applications is 14 days though they can range (or be set) between 30 days and 7 days. Typically, earlier than 7 days, none of the applications will send any alerts.
This is not to say that this is an ideal setting by any stretch, especially for single cases that are more urgent, such as a scraper that is hurting ones search engine rankings, but it gives us an idea what those that send the largest numbers of notices are thinking in terms of when they want to be notified.
So the question remains: How long should it take for the content to be removed following a DMCA notice?
The most common is under 72 hours (barring holidays) but typically one should not be concerned or interested in taking any further action until at least a week has gone by. At that point, it is worth taking a look at the situation, seeing if there might be some extenuating circumstances and, if appropriate, refiling.
As far as what the law says, that is something we will have to wait for a court ruling on. Right now, the term “expeditious” is just as vague to you and me (in this context) as it to attorneys.
Until a judge rules on this, we likely aren’t going to have any good answers.