What is the DMCA and how does it work?

The DMCA was put in place to protect copyrighted material online. Learn how the DMCA works, where it applies, and more.

What is the DMCA and how does it work?
Epidemic Sound artist Adelyn Paik

The DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) is a cornerstone of online content creation. Learn what it is, what it can mean for your content, and how you can reduce the risk of copyright trouble. 

Today, we’ll cover:

What is the DMCA?

The DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) is a part of US copyright law passed in 1998, which addresses internet-specific copyright issues. Among other things, the DMCA provides a framework under which rights-holders can issue takedown notices to internet service providers unlawfully sharing media.

Using a laptop

All copyrighted content falls under the DMCA, across all websites and platforms. That could be Twitch, YouTube, Instagram, an owned website, or somewhere else entirely — if it’s online, it’s subject to the DMCA’s beady eye. The DMCA is often associated with music, thanks to a mass Twitch takedown in 2020, but it covers photography, video, text, and more. 

Does the DMCA only apply in the US?

The DMCA is a US law, but there are similar regulations worldwide — all major platforms can be expected to apply the DMCA or DMCA-like processes across the globe. As a result, if you unlawfully use copyrighted content, the same or similar consequences are likely to apply no matter which country you’re in. 

What is a DMCA takedown?

In a nutshell, the DMCA takedown request is a formal process in which a rights-holder asks a service provider to remove a piece of content that infringes their copyright. The DMCA takedown process is ingrained in modern online life, helping rights-holders to safeguard their material.

Using a laptop

Let’s look at how a DMCA takedown generally works:

  1. The rights-holder realizes that their content is being used online in a manner that infringes their copyrights (for example, without the correct license). They’ll send a DMCA takedown notice to the service provider — how one does this depends on the platform or site on which the content is hosted. To file a DMCA takedown request for a standalone website, the rights-holder must find out who hosts the IP address. 
  2. The rights-holder must state all of the instances in which copyright law is broken. If some of these elements are missing from the request, the service provider could refuse to act on it. 
  3. The service provider gets in touch with the user who’s been accused of infringing copyright. Some service providers may immediately remove or mute content, while others may ask the user to remove it themselves. If the user believes that they’ve been wrongly accused, they can issue a counter-notice. The service provider may also reject the takedown notice if they believe it to be false.

How long does a DMCA takedown request take?

Many DMCA takedown requests are processed the same day, while others may take 72 hours or longer. In some cases, the service provider may be unable to reach the accused party — this can lead to a delay in delivering a full takedown. 

However, it’s usually in service providers’ best interests to address takedown notices promptly. If they keep infringing content on their services after receiving a takedown notice, they could leave themselves open to potential liability.

Looking at a computer

What are the consequences of a DMCA takedown?

Penalties differ platform to platform, but you’ll be familiar with the most popular method: three strikes and you’re out. Big names like Twitch often use this method, giving users three chances before terminating their account. The termination of your account might not be the end of it, as you could also face liability for copyright infringement.

Can you ignore the DMCA?

No. If you’ve been handed a DMCA takedown request as a creator, brand, or hosting platform, you shouldn’t ignore it. Refusing to cooperate can impact you, your content, and your business. In addition to potential penalties — some of which we’ve laid out — failure to resolve a DMCA takedown request can damage something you can’t repair: your reputation. 

What do you do if someone issues a false DMCA takedown?

If you think that you’ve received a DMCA takedown request in error or bad faith, you can get in touch with your service provider. They’ll let you submit a counter-notice, or in scenarios where the request is clearly wrong, they may retract it. Penalties for false DMCA takedowns cover damages, including costs and attorney fees.

Think carefully before pursuing a counter-notice, as they’re legally binding documents. If you’re found to have infringed copyright law, the rights-holder can file a lawsuit — even if you didn’t mean to breach copyright law.

Editing on a laptop

What does DMCA-free or DMCA-safe mean?

If you’re looking for additional footage, imagery, or music for your project, you may have stumbled upon subscription services or packages offering ‘DMCA-free’ or ‘DMCA-safe’ assets. While this term is a bit of a misnomer, its intention is pure: it tells you that the applicable use of the assets will not infringe anyone else’s copyrights.

These services can usually do this because they operate on a royalty-free basis. Or, in Epidemic Sound’s case, an extensive catalog of more than 40,000 top-tier tracks and 90,000 sound effects is available at users’ fingertips via direct licensing.

Our catalog is high-quality, affordable, and safe. An Epidemic Sound subscription goes beyond royalty-free music, removing the headache of licensing and freeing you up to do what you do best.

And if you do get caught up in a false DMCA takedown request while using our music, we have a dedicated digital rights management team ready to counter that request. Even better, since we exclusively own all the rights to our music, we can expedite that process to ensure the ‌false DMCA takedown is rejected promptly.

You can enjoy the safety of our license hand-in-hand with our massive catalog, covering just about every genre you can think of. You’ll also gain unlimited access to our advanced search functions — finding the right sound’s never been easier.

It’s better than royalty-free. It’s worry-free. Get started with Epidemic Sound below.

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