Quick Tip: Don’t Make False DMCA Claims

Automattic Inc. v. Steiner, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 182295 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 6, 2014) is the first time a party which received a DMCA takedown notice with material misrepresentations has been awarded money damages.

What is DMCA?

DMCA is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, limits the liability of the providers of online services for copyright infringement by their users but created a mechanism for those whose copyrighted works have been infringed to file a complaint to have the content removed. If they do not take appropriate action they may find themselves liable.   It is easy to file a DMCA claim and every site providing online services must have a DMCA policy to remove content that infringes the copyrights of individuals. Many sites like Facebook, Twitter, & WordPress even have forms that you can fill out to stream line the process and make sure you’re providing the information required under the law.

What happened in the case?

Automattic, the owner of WordPress.com and a major developer of the WordPress software, and blogger Oliver Hotham, Plaintiffs, sued the Defendant, Straight Pride UK, for using the notice-and-takedown provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) to stifle criticism. Automattic alleged that the Defendant abused the provision and are seeking damages under 17 U.S.C. § 512(f) for misrepresentation. The Court agreed.

“[T]he Court finds that Defendant knowingly misrepresented that Hotham violated his copyright because Defendant could not have reasonably believed that the Press Release he sent to Hotham was protected under copyright. Moreover, there can be no dispute that Defendant knew, and indeed, specifically intended, that the takedown notice would result in the disabling of Hotham’s article[,]” Magistrate judge Joseph Spero wrote in the opinion.

Although the court awarded damages for the costs of the suit and for “lost work and time” spent responding to a fraudulent takedown notice for copyright infringement. The Northern District denied monetary relief for Plaintiffs’ alleged reputational harm, Hotham’s alleged emotional distress, and Hotham’s alleged chilled speech.

What does that mean?

Do not file DMCA claims lightly and be prepared for a fight. People do not often fight these cases so vigorously but is does happen. Make sure you have a valid claim for copyright infringement. Copyright protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, Web sites, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed. Unauthorized reproductions, derivatives and distribution are illegal unless they fall under the fair use exemption. Have a good understanding of your rights and theirs before filing.

Hotham’s original blog post is now available on several other WordPress-hosted sites, including here and here.  And his account of the tale is here.

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