Online copyright regulations can often be blurred and ownership of text and multimedia content is not always as clear or straight forward as it may seem.
The information you provide online is prone to being reused by others, much in the same way as you may use information online for your own purposes – without the consent of the owner. What rights do you have and what is the general conduct of using online information?
What right do you have for what you own?
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was introduced in 1996 to protect people’s content rights. You can report an infringement1 online, while most websites have their own rules and regulations with regards to copyright. The DMCA criminalises copyright as well as infringement online, and can be cited when making a request to a website or Google.
It’s also possible to remove information from Google2 based on applicable laws, but you’ll obviously need proof that you’re the owner of the initial content and they’ll always encourage you to contact the website first.
Google’s terms of service state that “You may not use content from our Services unless you obtain permission from its owner or are otherwise permitted by law”. It also states that the content displayed on the search engine is “the sole responsibility of the entity that makes it available. We may review content to determine whether it is illegal or violates our policies, but that does not necessarily mean that we review content”.
Recently, artists called for tougher copyright rules3 after claiming they, writers and musicians were missing out on billions of euros every year. That’s because websites such as Facebook often use their material without compensating the owner. This is a very common problem which is not easily solved.
Misuse of the law
Recently, an article from the Guardian 4 revealed how copyright law is being misused to remove material online. Annabelle Narey posted a negative review about BuildTeam on forum Mumsnet after they carried out work and her ceiling fell through. She cited plumbing problems as the reason, which BuildTeam vehemently denied, and the firm contacted Google to request that her review on Mumsnet 5 was removed from the internet.
Some individual comments have now been removed by Mumsnet, but Narey’s initial post remains online – but if you try to search for the thread in Google it will be impossible to find. That’s because Google de-listed it in April following a DCMA takedown request. This is common practice online. It’s believed that Google received over 88 million takedown requests that month. Recent figures 6 suggest that around 43% of submissions prove successful and nearly 1.4 million URLs have been removed since May 2014.
But this case is intriguing because no copyright infringement had in fact occurred. Instead, someone copied the entire text of one of her posts and pasted it onto a spammy blog, titled Home Improvement Tips and Tricks.
This post was backdated to appear as 14th September 2015, three months before Narey had written it. This was then signed by a user ‘Douglas Bush’ of South Bend, Indiana, and the website was registered to Muhammed Ashraf, from Faisalabad, Pakistan.
BuildTeam claims to have nothing to do with the post, or in fact the reason why someone in Indiana or Pakistan would be reviewing a Clapham-based builders firm. But the case left Mumsnet and Google in a tricky situation – delete or delist the post, or risk further legal action. It was up to them to prove Ms Narey’s post on the forum came first.
Google receives millions of requests for DMCA take downs every day, and the company claims to have various techniques to spot fraudulent claims. But the punishment for a fraudulent claim is minimal, so – to some – it’s often worth a punt for some companies looking to have content removed online.
What you can and can’t do
If you write a blog or own a website and want to do some research online, you need to be careful not to infringe any copyright regulations.
Images from Creative Commons and those which are labelled for reuse in search engines are some of the best ways of using relevant images. Videos, social media posts and infographics can be embedded into a post, but you should always give accreditation to the owner of the original.
As a rule, you should not copy and paste text from articles without the owner’s permission, unless it’s a quote or statistic in which case you should link to the source article. If you find that someone has used your material without your permission, then contact them directly before escalating the matter further.