Over the past 15 years, I’ve filed thousands upon thousands of Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notices for myself and for others through my consulting services.
Nearly all of these notices are targeted to the hosting providers and, generally, have a very high success rate, well above 95%. With follow ups and additional action, that number creeps above 99%.
Using this process I’ve removed spammers, scrapers, plagiarists, revenge pornography and more. But just as the people I file against are varied, so too are the the people I’m helping.
One of the more common reasons people contact me is because they’ve filed a takedown notice only to be told no. Trying to figure out what they were doing wrong, they turned to me and asked for my help.
On that front, I’ve noticed a pattern, the same mistakes keep cropping up over and over again. On that note, here are the top 7 reasons I routinely see DMCA notices sent to hosts get rejected, both looking at notices filed by others and my personal experiences.
1: Wrong Company
The DMCA notice is supposed to go to the company hosting the content. The problem is that it can be very difficult to determine who the host of the site is, so much so that I penned a lengthy tutorial on it for the Stop Internet Plagiarism section.
The most common mistake here is sending the DMCA notice to the registrar of the domain. The registrar is simply the company that reserved and holds the domain name and usually isn’t the one providing the server where the content is sitting.
Except when it is. Many registrars, like GoDaddy, also provide hosting services. This makes it important to look at the DNS and IP information on the site, to see which company is actually hosting it.
However, even with that, sometimes it can be difficult to determine who the host is as the information available can be confusing or misleading. So, even for those doing it right, there’s an element of trial and error in trying to find out who is hosting the site.
2: Wrong Contact
Even if you manage to find the correct company, you then have to find the correct contact information for them. Most companies have a dedicated email address or form to receive DMCA and other copyright complaints.
This contact may or may not be the same as the abuse contact and, to make matters worse, the U.S. Copyright Office’s list of agents is so dated that it’s practically useless. Your best bet is to locate the host’s site and search for the information there.
If they don’t have the information, then you can go ahead and try the regular abuse address, usually found at abuse@, and hope for the best.
3: Not a Notice-and-Takedown Country
The DMCA is a U.S. law. However, the format and and requirements of a DMCA notice, generally, meet the requirements of other nations that have a notice and takedown regime.
Most nations that are considered major Internet players have such a system including the European Union, Australia, Russia and many others. However, other nations do not, the most prominent of which is Canada.
Also, there are many nations where a notice and takedown system is on the books but enforcement is so limited that it might as well not be. There is little that can be done in these cases, other than filing the notice with the search engines in hopes of getting the content removed from the search index.
4: Not Actually a Copyright Issue
Because of confusion around intellectual property, many of the issues people think of as copyright issues really aren’t. For example, the posting of private information, using your image in a photograph without permission, committing libel, etc. are all potential legal issues, but none of them are copyright.
The DMCA is solely for copyright issues. No matter how you have been wronged, if the issue at hand is not copyright, then you can not you can not file a DMCA notice. In the U.S., that behavior most likely falls under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which prevents hosts from being held liable for their users, even if they decline to remove the content.
Still, many hosts, in a bid to maintain high community standards and protect their terms of service, will remove such content if they are notified through a general abuse report.
5: No Clearly Defined Infringement
With a DMCA notice, it’s not adequate to just say that there is infringement on a particular site or domain. You need to clearly explain what is infringing and what work it is an infringement of.
For pirated works, this is fairly simple. It’s easy to point to a download of a file and say that it’s an infringement of the version for sale. But with text works, which are often rewritten or otherwise modified, it can be more difficult.
Using a tool such as CopyScape to produce a text highlighted version of the copy involved. However, DMCA agents typically don’t spend a great deal of time per case so it’s important that the infringement be clearly highlighted and immediately evident, even to someone just taking a brief look.
In short, sometimes this is just about being more clear about what is infringing and why.
6: Incomplete DMCA Notice
DMCA notices need to meet a set of criteria before they are accepted. However, in my experience, this problem is relatively rare. First, because of the proliferation of DMCA forms and form letters, including the ones on this site, and because many hosts will comply with an incomplete notice as long as the infringement is clearly defined and seems to be legitimate.
Still, it’s important to make sure that your notice meets all of the requirements of the law and the easiest way to do that is simply use a good stock letter, such as the one here.
7: Poor Host Behavior
Sometimes, even if you do everything right, the host will still reject or not respond to the DMCA notice.
Why is hard to say. Sometimes the person reviewing it didn’t understand, or bother to try and understand the notice. Sometimes the notice gets lost or misplaced. Other times the host simply doesn’t care or respond to takedown notices at all, no matter how legitimate.
If you’re 100% certain the notice is valid, resending may be the first step. Sometimes, especially at larger hosts that uses teams of people to handle copyright notices, you may get a false rejection because of a mistake by a particular team member. A resend and a fresh pair of eyeballs often fixes the problem.
This also helps in cases where notices are lost, misplaced or accidentally deleted. However, it obviously won’t help in cases where a host is intentionally ignoring the notice, despite legal and ethical obligations to do so.
In some cases, you just can’t convince a host to do the right thing.
When you’re dealing with DMCA notices targeted at hosts, if you do everything right, cases where you have to refile or follow up should be rare. Cases may take a while, sometimes a week or more, but if you’ve done everything correctly, the content almost always comes down.
If it doesn’t, it’s worth taking a moment and making sure that you did not commit one of these (or other) mistakes so you can correct it when you file again.
In the end, everyone does make mistakes but you have to be careful to ensure that your mistakes aren’t filing takedowns over non-infringing material or targeting issues that aren’t covered by the DMCA. While most mistakes can be fixed with a tweak and a refile, those errors have potentially serious legal consequences.
So be careful when filing your notices and make sure you leave the Internet a better place, not a worse one, through your actions.