You sit down at your computer one morning with a cup of coffee and start to check your rankings. Dear God! You’ve lost all your rankings! In fact, the site is no longer showing up in the Google search results at all. Your webmaster tools account has a message for you. Google has removed your website from its database because of a DMCA complaint.
“DMCA” is an abbreviation for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. Signed into law by President Clinton, the law is designed to create a conflict resolution process for copyright infringement matters online.
If someone files a DMCA complaint with Google against your site, they are asserting you are infringing on their copyrighted content. The infringement can include content such as the text on their site as well as less apparent content including photos, graphics and HTML codes.
Let’s start with a simple premise. Google is not at fault for removing your content. Under the DMCA, Google is granted a “safe harbor” from any copyright infringement claim so long as the company follows a particular compliance process starting with posting designating a DMCA agent and posting a policy.
One step in the process is to automatically remove any pages names in a DMCA complaint. Again, this removal is automatic, so don’t bad mouth the company.
Do you have any rights in this scenario? Yes. The DMCA also contains provisions detailing how a person accused of infringement can respond. You can file a counter-notice with the DMCA agent for Google contesting the claim. Again, Google does not evaluate the merits of this counter-notice. All it does is acknowledge the notice and follow the procedure detailed in the Act.
Once a counter-notice is sent, Google will pass it along to the party making the original complaint. That party then must decide to sue you, subpoena your identification or do nothing. If the copyright holder chooses to do nothing, Google will return your site to the rankings.
Should You Counter?
Should you file a counter-notice? While you undoubtedly desire to be listed in the Google rankings, part of the counter-notice process includes your submission to jurisdiction in federal court so the copyright holder can sue you.
If you “borrowed” content from another site, fighting the DMCA complaint could land you in court. In most cases, the situation is not crystal clear so speaking with legal counsel is a smart move. Copyright damage claims can be up to $150,000 per infringement, so a careful analysis of the situation should be undertaken.
DMCA complaints are nothing to laugh at. Evaluating these takedown notices requires an innate understanding of copyright law. If a search engine removes your site from its rankings because of a DMCA complaint, contact me immediately.
Richard A. Chapo, Esq.