If you’re a copyright owner and you send Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notices or other copyright infringement notices regularly, you probably know that people sometimes get angry about their sites, videos, etc. taken down, even if it wasn’t their content.
Though more than 99 percent of all of the notices I’ve filed, both for myself and other clients, have gone smoothly and without incident, it’s the handful of cases that haven’t that have worried me.
The truth is that copyright infringement notices, no matter how legitimate, can turn ugly. While most of the threats are idle legal threats, I’ve personally received several death threats, a few threats to “hack” my computer and on at least two occasions I’ve been the victim of doxxing, or the posting if personal information with the intent to harass.
While situations where false DMCA notices are used to harass legitimate sites get a great deal of press attention, less discussed is the fact that nearly every copyright holder I talk to that has sent a large number of notices has been harassed at least some themselves.
However, the DMCA makes it easy for targets to harass copyright filers. The law requires filers to provide:
Information reasonably sufficient to permit the service provider to contact the complaining party, such as an address, telephone number, and, if available, an electronic mail address at which the complaining party may be contacted.
Though that information is sent to the host of the infringing content, it is often forwarded on directly to the actual infringer. Some people, when faced with a copyright notice, will always choose to do the wrong thing and react poorly.
So how do you defend yourself from those? While the law requires you to provide valid information, there are several ways that you can defend yourself against the minority of DMCA targets that would seek revenge. Here are a few tips that can help.
Before You Begin
Before you get started with your DMCA notice, carefully read this article from 2010 about when not to file a DMCA notice. There are many reasons that a DMCA notice might not be appropriate or effective and rather than open yourself up to legal or negative publicity risks, it’s sometimes better to either ignore the infringement or address it through different channels.
Remember that your notice must be a valid notice. All of the information in it must be accurate to the best of your ability. This means that you are filing for content that you own or represent, that you are dealing with a clear copyright infringement and the party you’re sending it to is subject to the DMCA. If your notice fails any of those tests, don’t send the notice. Period.
If a DMCA is appropriate and you are worried about how your information might be used, here are a few tips that can help you remain more private and protect yourself from those who might respond in less-than-ideal ways.
1. Use a VPN
When you send an email, your Internet Protocol (IP) address is attached in the source of the email. While, in most homes, the IP leads to your router, a lot of information can be gleaned from it including approximate location, type of Internet access and your ISP.
Even worse, if you have security holes an IP address is all one needs to launch an attack on you. But even without security holes, a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack may be possible, taking you offline.
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. Basically, with a VPN your computer establishes a secure connection with another server elsewhere in the world and all of your traffic is routed through it, making that server appear to be the origin point.
If you use a VPN, the IP address on outgoing email is not yours, it’s the VPN’s. That’s virtually useless to an attacker. VPNs also provide other benefits, especially when using public wifi points, but it’s an invaluable tool even when you’re at home if you don’t want the person you’re emailing to have your virtual address.
So using a VPN when examining sites for possible infringement and sending copyright notices is a strong first step. There are many different VPN providers to choose from with costs ranging from free for limited use to just a few dollars per month.
2. Use a Separate Phone
A common theme is that, while you have to give accurate and complete information, you do not have to give your primary information. There’s no reason that infringers should call the same number your friends and business associates have.
There are any number of ways you can get a separate, valid phone number for yourself. Skype, Line2, Grasshopper and others offer a slew of online services that will give you a telephone number that you can use without giving away your main line. If you find yourself being harassed, you can easily ditch the number and get a new one.
However, these applications also provide advanced tools, such as shutting off phones during certain hours, call blocking and so forth that may remove the need for switching numbers.
3. PO Boxes and Alternate Addresses
Just as with your phone line, you’ll likely not want to put your home address on every copyright notice you send out.
While you have to ensure that it is an address that is checked regularly (or will at least alert you when mail is received), you can use any valid address including a business address, a PO Box or any other service that can receive your mail.
While there are countless choices as to how to do this, the main thing is that the address you list must be a place you can be reached, but it doesn’t have to be your home.
4. Email Addresses
While you don’t need any help finding a free email address, it’s worth noting that it’s probably not worthwhile to use the various tricks to make multiple email addresses with Gmail.
While those methods are worthwhile when dealing with lists and bots, humans can still easily determine what your original address is. As such, you are much better off either getting a new email address, or using one that’s already public and will be discovered whether it’s on the notice or not.
Once again though, it’s important to make sure that this address is checked, so either have it forward to your main address or set it up to alert you when new mail arrives.
5. Use a DMCA Agent
As the copyright holder, you can designate someone else to represent you in filing your DMCA notice. This person can be anyone that you authorize, as the copyright holder, to act on your behalf.
There are many companies that offer this service, including myself at CopyByte, and they present their contact information instead of yours, meaning that they handle all contact with both the host and the alleged infringer.
However, bear in mind that the agent still has to identify who the copyright holder is, meaning who the notice was filed on behalf of, so the information may not help if you already know the infringer, such as with a friend or former business partner, but they can help keep you relatively anonymous in most cases.
Bonus Tip: Use Ad Blocking
While ad blocking is understandably controversial among site owners, there is a time and place for it.
While searching for infringers and going through the steps of emailing a DMCA notice, it’s likely wise to go ahead and block ads for that brief period. There are several reasons for this, the most straightforward being to avoid accidentally clicking an infringer’s ad and providing them any revenue.
However, depending on the type of infringement you’re handling, a large number of the sites often contain ads that are offensive and unwanted. But, even if they don’t, they may use the same advertising networks and the ads you see can be impacted by the sites that you reported as infringing.
In one particular instance, after forgetting to turn ad blocking on while locating infringers for a client, I ended up seeing a slew of ads for one of the sites I was preparing to file against because, as a visitor, I became a target for their promotions.
If you can, it’s generally best to turn on ad blocking when dealing with infringing websites.
By far the most important step to make sure a DMCA notice doesn’t turn ugly is to make sure it’s a valid DMCA notice. If you file a correct notice for a clear infringement, it is very rare that things will go bad. While I’ve seen my share of crazy responses, I also have 1000s of notices to my name.
Truly ugly incidents, fortunately, are very rare with valid DMCA notices. But they do happen and, if you’re going to be filing a large quantity of notices, it makes sense to take a few steps to prepare yourself while still complying with both the letter and the spirit of the law.
You can’t file a DMCA notice and expect to remain anonymous, but you don’t have to put your personal information on display either. There is a happy middle ground that can keep you safe, while still respecting the rights of those that are subject to the notice.
That, in turn, can provide both peace of mind and a more peaceful life.