I quickly sent off this email:
The following article on the website somewebsite.com, hosted by SomeHostingCompany, was reprinted without permission. Infringing article: The link to their article was here. Our article: The link to my article was here. Please either take down the infringing article or just use the first two paragraphs and link back to our site for the rest. Thank you very much!
I sent this email, along with my standard signature line that included all my contact information, to the webmaster of the site and to their hosting company.
The article was taken down that same day. The website itself was also soon gone — apparently, stealing content isn’t a great business model.
I do this on a regular basis. The infringing content is usually immediately removed, or the site owner emails me to apologize because the full article was posted by mistake.
It doesn’t take a lawyer
If you’re a content creator who thinks that the DMCA process requires that you have to hire a lawyer — relax! All you need to do in most cases is send a simple email or fill in a form.
This is what typically happens:
- The site or grid gets your note and takes down the content. They HAVE to do this — no ands or buts about it — because if they don’t, they open themselves up for legal liability. If they take down the content right away, they’re in the clear. They don’t have to do any investigations, they can just take your word for it. But…
- The person who uploaded the content is notified about your takedown request. If they think their content is legitimate — either they bought it legally, and you forgot you sold it to them, or they created it from scratch and it just looks similar to yours — they ask for the content to be reinstated. And the site or grid HAS to put the content back. Again, the grid doesn’t have to do any investigating, they automatically put the content back. But…
- If the content is put back, you get notified — and you get the infringer’s real contact information. Now you have to decide whether you’ll take it further.
The cases that show up in the news are the extreme ones, where people go to court. But 99 percent of the time, when you file your initial takedown request, that’s the end of it. Infringers are embarrassed to be caught. They don’t want to draw any additional attention to themselves.
The ones who protest are usually the ones who have a real case. And that’s when the creator will typically let it go. After all, the other guy isn’t actually taking any money away from you, at worst, they’re taking money that could have potentially gone to you — but you have no way of knowing whether or not it actually would have.
Is it fair?
I’m sure plenty of people are going to post in the comments about how this system is biased one way or the other, that filing takedown requests is too easy and is abused, or that some grids drag their feet when complying with requests, or that infringers just put the bad content right back up again.
Again, let me repeat — it’s the marginal cases that everybody talks about, but they’re also the least likely to occur. Content thieves don’t want to draw attention to themselves. Grids don’t want bad reputations with creators. And nobody wants a lawsuit.
Don’t forget to step back and take a breath and remind yourself that nobody is actually getting hurt by this. You’re not being robbed at gunpoint. The odds that some creep on a tiny little grid somewhere giving your content to his friends will cut into your actual business revenues is nil — those folks aren’t your target customers, anyway.
And nobody is taking away the right to your content — you can’t lose your copyright just because people steal your stuff. The only way you can lose it is if you sign it away. It’s not like a trademark, where you have to actively protect it.
So here’s my three-step simple plan to content protection.
1. Decide how much risk you’re comfortable with
The more people see your content, the more likely it is that some will steal it. And the bigger the grid, the bigger the mall, the bigger the store — the more potential thieves will see it and want to copybot it.
If you have extremely valuable content and you are very averse to risk, sell your content to individual, trusted customers.
If you have rigged or scripted content, sell it on closed grids where you trust the grid owners.
For standard content, you can protect it to some degree by selling it only on online marketplaces like the Second Life Marketplace or the Kitely Market — thieves are not going to want to pay for your content, when there’s other content they can rip for free from malls.
Then decide how much time you’re going to allocate to protecting your content.
If the most you can do is an hour a month, that’s fine.
2. Look for stolen content where your customers would look
You don’t have to shut down all infringers. You just have to focus on the ones who could lure away your customers.
Fortunately, most of the work here can do double-duty as marketing research. Where do your customers prefer to shop? How do they find out about new products?
Rank these places based on popularity and, every month, check in on the easiest ones to visit or the biggest ones, and, if time allows, one or two of the smaller ones. Over the course of a year, you’ll have visited most of the places that could do harm to your business. And if every creator did the same, all the biggest infringers would soon be gone.
And make it easy for your customers to tell you about infringers. Have a list of your legitimate distributors on your website or marketplace page, and give customers a discount or gift certificate or present if they take the time to report an infringement.
3. File takedown requests
Here’s the order you should file your requests in:
- Store owner — you can just send them an in-world message. If it’s a legitimate store, it may well have been an honest mistake. And if it was an honest mistake, they might be happy to replace infringing content with a link to where people can buy your content legally. So you’ve not only put an end to infringement, but found a new distribution channel. Excellent!
- Grid owner — most of the major grids have DMCA forms or email contacts. I’ve listed the ones that I know about here. If your grid isn’t on this list, please email me and let me know, at [email protected]. Also email me if you need to contact a grid that’s not on this list, I might be able to connect you with the owner.
- Hosting company — if you do a WhoIs search on the domain name, you will be able to find out where the site is hosted. For example, a search on HypergridBusiness.com shows that we’re registered and hosted with Dreamhost. If you look in the footer of the hosting company’s website, you’ll usually find a section titled “Legal” or “DMCA” — the Dreamhost DMCA page is here.
- Internet Service Provider — but not all grids have websites and hosting companies. Some are run out of people’s homes and instead of a grid name they have an IP number. These guys are probably not going to do a lot of harm to your business, but if you want to track them down anyway, you can do a search on the IP address. For example, if I were to have a grid on my home computer, its address would be something like 220.127.116.11:9000. The first part of that — 18.104.22.168 — is my home IP address. Putting that into the Arin IP address search shows that I’m hosted with Charter Communications — and conveniently provides a Charter email contact for abuse notices.
I recommend starting with the store owner first, then moving up to grid owner, then hosting company, and saving the ISP for last.
What if I don’t want to tell people my legal name?
If you want to use the legal system to protect your content, then, at some point, you’ll have to claim legal ownership of that content.
A fictional character can’t own property. You can set up a business under your avatar name, and be an officer of that business — but you’ll still have to provide your actual name as that officer.
Think of an avatar as a virtual costumed character. If McDonald’s sees that another chain has stolen their menu, they’re not going to send someone in a clown suit to court. They’ll send the CEO, or a lawyer, or some other person who is legally able to represent the company. The actor in the clown suit is there for marketing purposes. And that’s what your avatar is — the marketing face of your virtual company. But not the legal face.
You could try to fudge things. In the letter to the store or grid, instead of saying that you are the copyright owner, you can say that you just represent the copyright owner. Or you could file the letter under your avatar name.
The store owner will probably respond even if you’re writing as an avatar. The grid might, or might not. But if they get a lot of complaints about a particular store, they definitely will — that store is a potential legal ticking bomb for them.
Either way, if the infringer, instead of quietly going away, decides to complain, they’ll be able to legitimately claim that since you didn’t provide your legal name, your takedown request isn’t valid. And they’ll have a point.
The bottom line is, if your business is starting to bring in substantial money, enough that you’re starting to take copyright infringement seriously, then it might be time to get professional and stop thinking of it as something your avatar does for fun. Start thinking of yourself as a professional 3D modeler and virtual content creator, instead.