Many artists are frustrated when their works appear without their permission on the internet. For example, a musician or filmmaker might suddenly find that her work is on YouTube, posted by a complete stranger and no acknowledgement of the artist. The artist is left feeling that there is nothing that she can do. However, that is not quite the case. In order to help curb copyright infringement on the internet, Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which states that an internet service must take down a work when notified that it was posted in violation of copyright law. The copyright owner must sent a take-down notice to the internet service, which then has a set number of days to remove the infringing content. If the internet service does not remove the infringing content, it will not be able to protect itself using the “safe-harbor” rule in the DMCA. The safe-harbor rule basically states that an internet service cannot be sued for copyright infringement if it takes down infringing material after being served a take-down notice. Further, many internet services have made it easier to file a take-down notice, and offer a form letter that can be filled out online and submitted.
The DMCA is a tool that artists can use to protect their copyrighted material from being infringed online. Unfortunately, the system is not perfect. Like the whack-a-mole game found at arcades, material that is removed via the take-down notice often pops up on another site. The law is far behind technology. But the take-down notice is a start in the right direction.