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Attn: Bloggers! Why you need a DMCA disclaimer & copyright registration

So, you've set up your blog or forum and it is totally awesome! You've created a platform for yourself, and/or a community where like-minded individuals can interact. You've spent uncounted hours researching the best software platform for your project, how to get your domain name, where to host your site, how to get traffic -- and keep it! Not to mention everything that goes into maintaining a community, and if you're lucky, how to monetize your efforts. Congratulations! Lots of people dream about hosting a website of their own - you've actually gone and done it. You've made a great contribution to this vast expanse of information known as the Internet, as well as to everyone who is touched by your website or community.

So don't let it all be threatened by neglecting a minor detail. Register it with the U.S. Copyright Office and put a DMCA disclaimer on your site. This is something I wish I knew before I got sued.

On Getting Sued
You do not ever want to get sued. Trust me. And even if your risk is small, it is something that you need to be aware of so that you can manage that risk properly. The purpose of this short article is to introduce you to some information that I wish someone had told me.

On August 31, 2010, I was sued by copyright troll and legal terrorist Righthaven, which went on a rampage, ultimately suing 275 victims for alleged 'copyright infringement.' As of this writing, Righthaven appears to have run into a brick wall and been sidelined (at least for now). But to date, Righthaven is estimated to have collected close to half a million dollars in settlements from unsuspecting bloggers just like you, shaking them down for thousands of bucks each - or whatever they could pay. I was lucky, as my suit was ultimately dismissed because Righthaven - for a variety of reasons - failed to serve me with the suit.

In order to avoid what I went through, here is what you need to know:

In your research, you probably came across the Digital Millennial Copyright Act, or the DMCA. You may think (as I did) that your little website is protected by a blanket 'safe harbor' status under the Act. That's what I thought! It isn't - at least not until you take care of a few things.

Designated Copyright Agent Registration
In order to qualify for safe harbor protection, you must designate an agent to deal with copyright complaints and register your site with the copyright office. (Government red tape, I know - but that is another story) The form you need to fill out is here. It costs $105 to register one site, and another $30 to add up to 10 more. Fill it out and mail it back to: Copyright RRP, Box 71537, Washington, D.C., 20024 along with your check. You can search designated agents here, on the Copyright.gov website.

Learn more information about this at Wired Magazine. According to Wired, Righthaven apparently targeted only those sites that failed to file the above form.

DMCA Site Disclaimer
Additionally, you need to have a DMCA disclaimer on your site, clearly stating that you comply with the DMCA and outlining the procedures on how to file a complaint and who to send it to. Mine is here. I copied it from another website, but had my attorney look it over and give it the all clear, so feel free to use it yourself and share it with others.

Final Notes
At this point it looks like Righthaven is on the ropes, and may likely be (permanently) sidelined soon. But all indications point to Righthaven being simply an initial proof of concept for the copyright-suit-for-profit business model. Righthaven screwed up in so many ways that I really wonder what it was all about. But the legal scholars I have spoken with believe that eventually (and it may not be long) someone else will come along and tighten up and improve on Righthaven's arguments and procedures and be back. The definition of internet copyright infringement remains murky, but in the realm of law, it is often the party with greater resources that prevails. No doubt others are eyeing the lucrative "business model" of squeezing money out of people. Don't let it be you.

Also be aware that the above steps should protect you from copyrighted content that others have posted on your site. It does not give you license to post copyright protected content on your own site. As a website owner, it is imperative that you understand copyright. Be sure that you only post content that you have permission to use, or that you own yourself. In phase two of its operations, Righthaven briefly struck gold by suing site owners who posted images to their websites.

I hope that this information has been useful. If you have any questions, please post them in the comments section below, or contact me by clicking on my username above (must register to use the contact function).

Best of luck and keep on blogging.

Michael Nystrom
Founder & Owner

Excellent reference for further review:

Chilling Effects
Righthaven Victims: How to Avoid a Lawsuit
Wired: The $105 Fix That Could Protect You From Copyright-Troll Lawsuits
Booth Sweet LLP - A Commercial Arts & Technology Law Firm
Marc Randazza - Randazza Legal Group

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Hate to bump this

Sorry Michael, hate to bump this. I am creating a news/local contribution type site for my county. I have searched EVERYWHERE for information on how to properly put up a DMCA page on the site, because I trust no one.

Sure enough, I think hey, maybe the site I am on every other second of the day would have some help I have not been able to clearly find as of yet anywhere on the web. And BAM! Here it is.

I really appreciate the help Michael and even more that you would let me use the notice on your page. (If that is still OK). I have been trying to write one and it is horrible to say the least.

Any other pointers would be greatly appreciated. I know user generated sites (as this one is) do not mesh well with Featured images on the homepage, as I don't trust others only using completely Public Domain images. I may have to change my theme (as I am using Wordpress), which isn't really made for user generated content to begin with. I'm beginning to ramble.

Thank you for everything Michael and sorry you had to go through what you did.

Thank you, Michael

for sharing this info and for all that you do for the Ron Paul community. You are a blessing.

This is very useful info,

This is very useful info, thanks for posting it. I'll be implementing your suggestions into my own sites with user generated content asap.