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Copyright Theft


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Recently, a user in England has contacted me via PM asking for advice in a situation where his web site has been copied and his CC designs offered for sale in violation of his copyright. I wrote him a detailed response. It occurs to me that the information may be of value to other CC developers.

I have edited the PM version, removing the name of the specific hosting company involved, to make it more generally applicable. As you read this, keep in mind I am not a lawyer. Because the available remedies are so powerful and can destroy a web site within a few hours, I urge great caution and restraint in its use. Unless you are absolutely certain of your situation and unless the facts support your position, you should not forge ahead. In any event, unless you act under the advice of an attorney, you may be putting yourself at risk. The criminal penalty for a false DMCA complaint is one of perjury under US Federal law; abusers also will expose themselves to some crushing civil penalties that could ruin their lives.

First, the background of this specific case . . .

The host of the site that uses allegedly stolen copyrighted material responded to the victim's initial email citing the Digital Millennium Act (DMCA) by saying, in effect, "We don't have a DMCA agent and you'll have to get your own before we will honor your complaint." As my PM states, that is a stupid response.

Here's what I said . . .

That response by the hosting company betrays the fact hat they are not an experienced or professional company. I am especially leery that they do not publish any solid contact information. They are probably operating out of a spare bedroom. Even if they are more substantial than that, I would not give a penny to an Internet supplier who would not be more forthcoming.

I did a WhoIs and here's their domain info. You may want the address by the end of this email.




THE DMCA says, every hosting company based in the USA must have a DMCA agent and must publish that contact information on the web site. Failure to do so is itself a violation of the law.

See http://www.copyright.gov/legislation/dmca.pdf (foot of page page 11)

BTW - there is plenty of language in USA copyright that protects copyright theft victims based in other countries, so you do not need to worry or even explain that you are based in England or any other country. And you certainly do not need your own DMCA agent. Such a thing does not even exist. It is *they* who must either be their own DMCA agent or appoint a third party for that purpose.

I own a hosting company and my web site goes further than the law requires by telling people how to file a "conforming notice of violation" that will get action. See:


Further, there is NO allowance in the DMCA for them to delay whilst contacting the offender and asking him to remove the offending material. The DMCA is very explicit and dranconian.

When a hosting company receives a conforming notice of a copyright violation they MUST act "expeditiously." (again see that word in the bulleted paragraph immediately before the last one on page 11 of the DMCA official PDF) In the context of law, the word "expeditiously" is a serious legal term. It means that there are no alternatives, no reasons for delay, no excuses.

The penalty for failure to remove the offending material "expeditiously" (RIGHT NOW, TODAY, THIS HOUR) is the same as the penalty for the offender himself. In other words, the law is saying, if you do not act, you are an accomplice of the copyright thief. The penalty for each offense is a $250,000 fine and 2 years in US Federal prison. Take note that it says "and," not "or." It is not a civil penalty; it is a criminal penalty. The hosting company that fails to protect the victim's copyright is also equally responsible for the usual civil penalties for infringement.

A hosting company can avoid those criminal and civil penalties only by taking advantage of what are commonly called the "Safe Harbor" provisions of the DMCA law. Safe Harbor basically says, "I didn't know this was going on because I can't watch every little thing that someone puts on my server. But as soon as I got a conforming notice, I acted to remove the offending material." In response to that, the law says, "That's OK. You didn't know, you did the best that could be expected of you by acting expeditiously after you got a conforming notice and therefore you can't be penalized."

Therefore, any legitimate hosting company that knows what it is doing, will not leave stolen material on their server for any longer than it takes to remove it. They have everything to lose and nothing to gain if they don't.

So, were I you, I would use the guidelines on my web site (http://buildinghosting.com/legal.htm) to create a "conforming notice" and send it to them by two methods (1) by email and include in there a prominent notice that the same document is being sent to them via method (2) a registered or certified or courier letter (whatever you call that in England) and DEMAND (no need to be polite) that they expeditiously remove the entire offending web site.

In your email, tell them they should read the DMCA law or talk to to their lawyer. Let them know that you know they have no right to consult with the offender, ask his co-operation or delay in any way.

Tell them to pay specific attention to the DMCA paragraph 512©(3).

EDITED NOTE: That address is not supposed to contain a copyright "c" in a circle. But the forum software insists on interpreting a "c" within brackets as the copyright symbol. The referenced DMCA para is:

512(the letter C)(3).

Here is an excellent information resource.




Take special note that those pages tell you how you can get the offending site delisted from search engines by sending them the same notice as you send to the host. The above resource even gives you links to official Google and Yahoo forms.

That way, you not only kill the web site but, you also will kill any mention of it in search engines. Sort of like the salt that Rome spread over the site of Carthage to make sure it never recovered agriculturally or commercially from the military defeat.

Finallly, to more fully understand the Safe Harbor provisions, and to help ypou be a more effective enforcer of your copyrights by invoking the Safe Harbor, there is a good Wiki discussion at:


I hope all this helps. Best of luck to you and DEATH to copyright thieves!

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Excellent work Joe!

I recently found out several people from myspace, you tube and friendster were hotlinking to my copyrighted wallpapers and found them thru my servers latest visitors log and http referrers

I was able to in every case contact the host of the offending user and each in turn supplied me with the DMCA form where by I was able to easily enter in the details of each violation of my intellectual property rights.

and in each case myspace, youtube, friendster and photo bucket ALL removed the my images from their servers and removed/banned/terminated the offending user.

Also to help stop hotlinking of my images and theft of my copyright and bandwidth

I wrote a simple htaccess file to replace the image they are hotlinking to with a gif image of my own design and choosing. So now when visitors visit these profile pages they get to see what I think about hotlinkers

which stops people from hotlinking to my images in the first place...

In a case as the one you so excellently detailed where complete designs are being stolen and the inexcusable response from the hosting company hotlinking isnt the issue but actual plagarism and copyright theft and I would hope once the "owner" of this hosting company realizes the severe penalty they WILL incurr if they dont act "expeditiously" to remove the stolen content and ban/terminate/seek legal action against the thief.

Again well done Joe!!! this needs to be stickied

Kinetic :)

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I started with the Cpanel hotlink protection but found it lacking it would restrict image or file types and allow you to set a shtml or violation type page which works great if they are using an image to lilnk to your main image but when users do thehotlinking via css or a body background this doesnt provide anything beyond niot showing the image

my expanded version of the htaccess file that gets written allows for white list and black list and if on a black listed domain show them this alternate image instead of the image they are hotlinking to via the page background css it also will show the alternate image if hotlinked in other ways and the domain isnt on the black list

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And i appreciate it very much Joe :blink:

The content provider has now removed the offending website after i formally quoted what you told me and that of the DCMA pdf.

Again, i am in your debt :)

As former US President Lyndon Johnson used to say, in his Texas drawl, when he was asked about his extraordinary skill in convincing legislative opponents to co-operate with his plans, "It's really simple. You just grab 'em by the bawls and their hearts and minds will follow."

You are welcome. In our own small way we here are a band of brothers (and sisters, too).

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Guest Brivtech

Interesting you mention hotlinking:

I just had a customer who received an invoice for £1500. It was for payment of the use of an image, or face legal proceedings. The invoice was sent by solicitors (What y'all over the pond call Lawyers) on behalf of their client who sold images over the internet - A commercial image library.

My client was truly ignorant about this, having done an image search from Google, and then using an image that came up, there was no copyright, etc. to be seen, although my customer didn't go onto the hosting website. They used the image on a (awful) website that they had put together themselves, I suppose not bad considering they had absolutely no web design experience.

I advised by customer that while they acted ignorantly, it was still their responsibility to ensure the source of the image was indeed legitimate in terms of intellectual property. Had the simply copied and pasted the image, they may have even got away with it. I also told them to contact the solicitors informing them that they had promotly removed the image upon receiving the notice, and that the company hosting the images should have taken some responsibility to ensure that their copyrights were adequately displayed, especially as it seems to be a common practice to watermark such images, which they do not do. Apparently, they followed my advice, and the solicitor was satisfied and matter was dropped. :)

If you do a Google search for "Using .htaccess to stop remote image linking (hotlinking) and bandwidth theft", there's an interesting article on, well, what it says. In fact, I'm going to try this out and see if I can implement it onto my customer's sites.

I came up with a php-based solution for stopping customers stealing skins, or operating files without authorisation, but I'm not happy releasing it because it could be used adversely.

I'm also moving this topic to General discussion, as it's not really CC4 specific.

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There is a huge lack of knowledge about what is copyright, how do you get a copyright and what is protected. Things get complicated when different national laws are involved.

But there are few simple verities that may keep you out of trouble.

1) if it is on the Internet, even if it is on multiple web sites, and even without a © notice or other attribution, it is fair to assume it is copyright.

Why? Because a common theme in copyright law, specifically in the USA and often in other countries, is that an original creation (picture, text, painting, sculpture, computer code, etc.) is the copyrighted product of its creator FROM THE MOMENT IT IS EXPRESSED. That means no public notice or filing or registration is required to acquire protection under the law. There are however, important issues we'll get to.

Key issues: You cannot copy an idea or a concept unless and until it is in some "sensible" form - meaning, a form that can be sensed by sight or sound (and maybe touch). You cannot protect an idea or concept. You cannot protect a list or the contents of a database (ask the phone company about that - they lost a lawsuit on that point dozens of years ago.) If you take photo but keep it in the camera - and someone else comes up with the same idea and publishes it, you are S.O.L.

2) The value of formal registration is that, if your rights are abused, you will be able to do more than just stop someone from publishing or making copies. In the USA, if you register a copy with the US Copyright Office, you then may sue for damages and loss of profits and you may recover from the offender, not just the profits they imporperly earned, but up to three times that as punishment. You may enforce a court order to destroy all copies at the offenders expense AND (perhaps moist important of all) if you have registration, you will have little difficulty finding an eager attorney because if the work is registered, he is guaranteed his fees and costs at the expense of the offender.

But without registration, you can only stop abuse. None of the other remedies are available to you.

You can register one item - even an entire body of works (such as a web site, a collection of magazine articles, etc.) - on one application for one price.

3) A copyright is like a loaf of infinitely sliceable bread. If you own the copyright you can license (not sell; license) as many possible uses as many times and in as many varieties of ways as the market will bear. For example, you can offer one guy a license to print an image on a tee-shirt - and then license it again to the next tee-shirt guy who will pay - and keep doing that as long as the written copyright license agreement does not offer an exclusive for tee-shirts. You can limit a license by any combination of format, size, quality, regional area, dates, total number allowed, etc. You can charge rates based on whatever you and the licensee agree upon.

And of course, you may turn around and license the same image to a postcard publisher, a magazine, etc.

While it is best to spell out those licenses in a well written contract, the assumption of law in the US is that unless there is a written contract containing the exact words, "made for hire" or "work made for hire", any license granted without that contract assumes you are licensing only one copy for one purpose, one time. The licensee may not sub-license other people and a licensee acquires no rights beyond that single use EVEN if they paid you to make the item. So, if you are sculptor under commission, you must deliver the copy they paid for, but they cannot make copies or put its image on a tee-shirt.

Thus, if you make a web site for someone, even if they pay you up front for it, you the creator still own it and can refuse to allow it to be used again in a way you do not approve. For example, I own a hosting business. When I build a site, I may grant a license to use the site on my server. If the site "owner" wants to move to someone else's server, he needs my permission or he must redesign the site so it doesn't look like what I created. Usually, I would let it go. But if there are moneys owed or some other issues, I have those trump cards in my hand and can negotiate some equity. I can re-license a store's design as often as I wish, without the permission of anyone else- which is what a themes designer is legally doing.

Hope that clarifies things . . .

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Guest Brivtech

Interesting you mention hotlinking:

I came up with a php-based solution for stopping customers stealing skins, or operating files without authorisation, but I'm not happy releasing it because it could be used adversely.

Which i still havent heard anything further about from you Britvech :(

I know, I need a prod with a sharp stick sometimes. What with me starting up a new business, trying to get my GMC back on the road (Rear leaf spring snapped last week), Spanish lessons, and getting married in Mexico, I do tend to get a touch distracted. Sorry.

Unfortunately, in many cases, especially because of international boundaries, and also because of the legal costs involved, it's not easy enforcing copyright.

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I need a prod with a sharp stick sometimes.
When all other remedies fail, having lived in Chicago for about 25 years and having operated a few widely active legitimate businesses there, I still know people whose "prod" looks suspiciously like a baseball bat and is applied with a swinging motion, rather than a poke.

But there is a Code of Honor even there. As long as the debt or obligation is considered ultimately collectable (with regularly accumulating vigorish, of course) the late-payment notification device is not applied above the hips. Instructing knees is especially convincing. Only when there is no hope for recovery of funds is the debt, and the debtor, liquidated.

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hmmn...Interesting thread

@kinetic: Would you consider sharing your hotlink protection script - I've found the cPanel hotlink protection inadequate but I'ma graphic designer - not a programmer...

@Brivtech: In UK there is a company called 'ACID' (Against copying in Design) - This is one low-cost way of helping protect your rights. This agency will keep registered copies of designs you do - and can help enforce those rights. They give you an allowance of 'free' legal advice per issue you run into - maybe worth doing if you often have people ignoring your Copy Rights.

In my ex day job as a graphic designer I often saw instances that you describe of stock libraries threatening to take action (more often than not actually taking action - trust me - your guy got off lightly), I dont know what it is - whether just a general ignorance to the matter - but people think they can go round copy and pasting things from google images without consequence.

But as Joe I'm sure would say - Ignorance is no defence of the law!

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Guest Brivtech

hmmn...Interesting thread

@kinetic: Would you consider sharing your hotlink protection script - I've found the cPanel hotlink protection inadequate but I'ma graphic designer - not a programmer...

Follow the Google instructions I mentioned above, the .htaccess hack can also be added to the bottom of your .htaccess file if you're using the SEO MOD.

I actually provide my own US federal copyright registration service. The problem is that it costs money to take it through the courts, and not everyone can afford that.

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  • 16 years later...

Copyright theft is a serious issue plaguing creative traumatic brain injury lawyer industries worldwide. It not only deprives creators of their rightful income but also undermines the incentive to innovate. From music to literature, art to software, no sector is immune. To combat this, stringent laws and enforcement mechanisms must be in place, alongside raising awareness about the importance of respecting intellectual property rights.

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