** Disclaimer. We are not lawyers or experts on intellectual property issues and we are not providing legal advice. This post pertains mainly to forums in the US.
Last week Google announced that it would be punishing websites for which it has received valid copyright infringement notices in its search results. Google has not disclosed how it determines if takedown is ‘valid’ or how much of an impact it will have on rank. Google does say that infringement notices are just one of 200 ‘signals’ that are used to determine rank. It’s believed that Google is trying to appease the big media and entertainment companies and is really targeting sites that are overtly promoting pirated content but forum and other community driven sites should give some thought to copyright issues.
What should I do to keep copyright content off my forum?
The first line of defence is some education in the forum guidelines. Let your members know that they shouldn’t be linking to copyright material and that doing so will result in a suspension or banishment from the community. You can also encourage your community to include proper attribution when citing or pasting copyright content. Your moderators also have role to play: they should be on the lookout for egregious and obvious offences such as links to pirated movies, music and software. It’s also helpful to make sure to keep your forum free of SPAM. During the
Olympics, we saw quite a bit of forum SPAM for pirate video streams.
What about all the images that get posted to forums?
Many forums contain thousands of images that may be copyrighted. It’s OK to post an image if permission has been granted by the rights holder or if its use falls under what is called Fair Use (Fair Dealing in most commonwealth countries). Fair Use allows someone to copy copyright material if it is being commented on, criticised or parodied. Most forum posts that contain images probably qualify as Fair Use.
Putting in place a complaint process
Since it’s very difficult to completely eliminate the risk of someone posting copyright material on your site, it’s a good idea to post an infringement complaint process. This process sets out clear instructions on how the complaint should be submitted and what information is required in order to properly investigate the complaint. It should also require the complainant to attest that they are being truthful - which reduces malicious and bogus claims. Here is Vanilla’s complaint page and here is YouTube’s.
What should I do if I receive an infringement notice?
It’s up to you to decide how you want to handle complaints. Vanilla sometimes receives complaints about content that appears on our customers’ forums. We take these complaints seriously and investigate each one. If the complaint appears to be valid, we will remove the content in question and notify our customer who in turn can notify the member of their forum. If the poster of the content in question feels that the takedown notice was unfounded, they can send us a counter-notice and ask that the content be reinstated. If you do get a counter-notice, you might want to talk to your lawyer before deciding what to do next. You might also want to forward the takedown notice to chillingeffects.org. By forwarding them the complaint you’ll help create a public record of all the legal action taken against websites.