Last weekend I was doing some copyright infringement control on Daily Blog Tips, basically looking for people ripping off my content, and contacting the owners of those sites or, when their contact detail was not available, contacting the hosting company directly.
At one point I found a guy that had copied my 43 Web Design Mistakes You Should Avoid integrally. He did mention that the article was coming from Daily Blog Tips, but as you probably know, merely crediting the author does not give one the right to republish the material. There was no contact details on the site, so I identified the hosting company and contacted them.
The hosting was called EliteHost.net. Upon hitting the “Contact” link I saw a 404 error page. Hmm, not a good start. I tried to find some other contact information, but the only one available was the customer support, so I went for that anyway and sent a DMCA notification.
Some time later I got a reply, and it said something along these lines (not the actual text, because emails are also subject to copyright laws, so I will express it with my own words):
“Unfortunately we are just the hosting company, and we don’t own the website or the content you are claiming to be infringing on your copyrights. You should therefore contact the owner of the content and try to settle the matter with him. Going after the hosting company is useless.”
When I read that I realized these guys had no clue about what they were talking about. The DMCA clearly specifies on Section 202(c) that a service provider will also become liable unless upon notification of claimed infringement as described in paragraph (3), responds expeditiously to remove, or disable access to, the material that is claimed to be infringing or to be the subject of infringing activity. You can download the complete DMCA text here (pdf link).
Now how could a hosting company be unaware of this I am not sure. Anyway, I decided to try again, so I replied to their email explaining that they could become liable as well even for just hosting the copyright infringement.
Some time later I got another reply, even more shocking than the first one. It said something like:
“We don’t care about whatever copyright act you are talking about, we will need to get our attorneys to review this. You don’t have anything better to do than going around bullying people? Are you a recent graduated lawyer or something that likes to harass people? Things can get worse here if you insist.”
At this point I started to get pissed off. I publish content on this blog for a living (and for passion, but still). When someone rips off my content, he is hurting my business. Now, if apart from a content thief I also need to face a dumb hosting company that does not treat copyright infringement issues seriously, then things start to go down hill.
But I don’t like threatening people or anything, so I just sent another polite email confirming that I was claiming a copyright infringement, and that I was waiting a reply from them.
Then I got another pearl of wisdom from Elitehost.net on the following day:
“We looked into the issue, and we discovered that the website contains a link to your original material, so we don’t see a copyright infringement here. We talked with the owner of the website and we arrived to this conclusion. Additionally, we talked to our attorneys and they said you should stop emailing us and wasting our time.”
At this point my only thought was: You’ve got be kidding me?
Not only these guys had no clue about what the DMCA is, but they also thought that using a link to credit the original material was enough to avoid any copyright infringement issues. There was one guy ripping off my content, and the hosting company thought the kid was playing by the rules….
After some time the owner of the website removed the content anyway, because I think he realized what was going on. But if it was for the hosting company alone I am not sure what distance we would need to have gone before solving the problem.
Apart from the rant, there are some points to take home here. If you are a web publisher, do know your rights, and don’t get frightened by the first negative response you might get. Remember also that hosting companies might become liable if they don’t remove or block access to the violating content after you notify them about it.
Ah, and keep an eye for the brilliant folks over at EliteHost.net as well. Way to go as a hosting company…
Thanks to friends Steve Imparl and Jonathan Bailey who helped me out.
Update: Today the CEO of this company contacted me via IM and we chatted a bit. Basically it looks like this was a single employee incident, and he is already proceeding to fire the clueless guy. So perhaps the whole company is not to be blamed.