What to do if your content is posted online illegally

What to do if your content is posted online illegally

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The Internet is overflowing with websites that share content protected by the Copyright Act but that have not obtained consent from the copyright owners. In that anonymous world where no one seems to be liable for anything, copyright owners can feel powerless when their content is used illegally. What can you do if you see that your content is being shared without your permission?

Your first thought may be to consider legal proceedings. That’s a common reaction among most of the copyright owners in that situation who contact us. However, by taking some simple steps first, you can avoid many headaches for yourself.

What should you do?

It may in fact be completely legal for your content to have been published on the Web without your knowing it. And it’s also possible that the person who posted your content online was acting in good faith without realizing they were infringing your copyright.

Not every case of illegal sharing of copyright-protected content involves incorrigible Internet pirates. Even though ignorance of the law is no excuse, if you try to resolve the issue by threatening legal action and sending lawyer’s letters you could be wasting your time and energy while also missing out on valuable opportunities!

Here are the questions you should ask and the steps you should take to have your content taken down from a website.

Has the site been given permission to share the content?

That’s the first question you should ask. The second question is: Who could have given permission to the site?

Does anyone other than yourself hold rights to the content? Those parties could have given permission without informing you. Did they have the authority to do it? That depends on the agreements you made with them.

Before calling a lawyer or writing to Copibec and especially before contacting the site administrators, talk to the people you worked with. Who knows? Maybe they’ve already been paid royalties for the use of that content.

If the site is sharing the content without permission

So, you’ve checked with the people you worked with and you’ve confirmed that they haven’t been in touch with the site administrators. You can therefore conclude that your content has been posted online illegally.

In that case, should you launch legal proceedings? Maybe not. You need to ask some other questions first. Here’s why:

The person who put your content online without your consent is probably unaware that they’re infringing your copyright. Illegal sharing doesn’t always mean that Internet piracy is involved. The people using the content may be misinformed rather than malicious. Obviously, that doesn’t relieve them of their responsibilities but, keeping that in mind, you can assume they’re acting in good faith while you move on to the next steps.

Here are a few examples of websites where your content could be shared without permission by people who don’t realize they’re breaking the law:

- Sites of individuals, organizations or businesses that are unaware of the rules around copyright
- Sites of businesses or organizations whose content is generated by employees who haven’t been informed about copyright issues
- Sites where content is generated by users and where it is difficult for administrators to verify that all the content is legally compliant, such as:

Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)
Video and streaming music platforms (YouTube, Vimeo, Spotify)
Internet forums
Blog comment sections
Content aggregators
Content-sharing sites for teachers
Sites that users mistakenly assume are password-protected intranets

How to ask to have your content taken down

Many sites offer ways to request that illegally reproduced content be removed.

Check whether the site offers an option of that kind. In general, sites with that option will agree to take down the illegal content within 48 hours of receiving a request. The method for submitting a request can be found in the site’s terms of use. Sites often include those terms under headings such as copyright, legal notice, acceptable use policy, privacy policy, terms and conditions, or DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act).

Some sites will ask you for a detailed email while others will make a form available for you to fill out. In either case, here are the details you’ll need to provide:

- Confirmation that you’re the copyright owner or the owner’s authorized representative
- Your complete contact information (email address, phone number, mailing address)
Bibliographic references to identify the illegally reproduced content
- Exact location of the content (URL of the page where the content appears)
- Notification from the copyright owners or their agents that the content was reproduced without permission and that it contravenes Canada’s Copyright Act

If the site doesn’t offer a copyright takedown option

Don’t worry, that’s not unusual. In that case, a polite email providing the above details should be sufficient.

We think it’s important to repeat that the people using your content without permission aren’t necessarily Internet pirates. They probably didn’t think about what they were doing or they assumed there wouldn’t be an issue under the Copyright Act.

It’s likely the site’s owner will apologize and remove your content immediately. You could even propose a user licence to the site administrator and negotiate the royalties!

Be sure you’re asking the right site to take down your content!

Many sites contain links to third-party sites where you can download illegally reproduced content. That applies to certain forums where users share links to illegal download sites.

When you request that your content be taken down, make sure you’re contacting the illegal download site rather than the forum or site offering a link to that download site. You’ll save yourself some steps. Your content will be removed from the download site and, at the same time, the link to that site will no longer be functional.

What if the site’s owner refuses to take down your content?

If the steps you take are unsuccessful, your only option will be legal action. We suggest that you contact a lawyer.

Copibec’s role in fighting Internet piracy

Previously, Copibec and the RCMP worked together in the effort to stop the illegal sharing of content protected by the Copyright Act. However, in recent years, the police have stopped taking action in those types of cases.

Given the volume of illegally reproduced content available online and the time needed for each takedown request, Copibec isn’t able to monitor content or give the necessary notifications on your behalf.

However, we’re continuing to document these copyright infringement cases. If you discover illegally reproduced material, we’re also available to help you in your efforts. Please do not hesitate to contact us!

Although we’ve detailed the steps you should take in these cases, we very much hope you won’t have to take them!