In May 2016 a blogger friend asked me to contribute a best practice in the form of a quote for an article on AT&T’s The Bridge, which celebrates the intersection between urban culture and technology. The article included practical tips and online tools to help content creators and copyright owners monitor their content online, and ensure proper attribution and credit was received. But what should you do if you find a photo, song, book, blog post, etc., that you created shared online and without credit or attribution to you? My recommendation in the article was to politely reach out to the person who shared the content and simply ask that they correct the matter by giving due credit to the content creator. Here are a few more best practices for effectively handling this situation:
BE KIND. Showing empathy keeps things calm and is helpful in moving towards a solution. Don’t assume the sharer has malicious intent; rather give the benefit of the doubt that they thought enough of your content and felt it had value to others and so wanted to share it for that reason, not to be rude. None of us are born knowing copyright law and often the person just wanted to share something he or she thought looked cool, so don’t assume the worst.
BE CLEAR. Know what you want. Do you want the sharer to edit the post, article, etc. to include your name and a link back to your website (because you want recognition for your work and to potentially increased traffic to your website)? Do you just want a link to your website included? Do you want a portion of your content removed or all of it? Knowing what you want and why will help you draft a complete letter and avoid unnecessary back and forth communication to clarify your request.
BE CONSISTENT. Did you give permission in your website terms or elsewhere for certain content to be shared? If so, make sure the content that was shared falls outside the scope of what you are allowing to be shared. For example, if you’re a photographer and have a section on your website with 10 photos that act as a portfolio of your work, and you’ve included messaging on that page that allows people to share those 10 portfolio photos with others (aka as free advertising for you), then double check to make sure that the photo you found shared online is NOT one of the 10 you told people they could share!
So that’s all well and good, but how should one go about actually asking for proper credit online? Below is an optional template you can use to politely reach out to others and ask that they attribute the content back to you.
Subject: Request for Attribution
I hope you’re well! I’m reaching out regarding content I created and/or own (i.e. [short description such as “poem titled XYZ” or “photo of a black bird in a field”]), which appears to be shared at [specific website URL where content appears]. I sincerely appreciate your interest, thank you sharing this content and wanted to ask to be credited as [your name] with a link back to [specific website URL where you originally posted the content]. Thanks for your understanding and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
As a courtesy, it’s probably reasonable to give the person 2 weeks to to provide attribution and/or respond. Ok, great, but what happens if they don’t respond and/or don’t provide attribution per your request? Here’s another option:
You may submit a DMCA report with the website where the content has been shared, which is a more formal way to request that your copyrighted content be removed from the website. DMCA stands for Digital Millennium Copyright Act – now you can see why people just use the acronym- it’s a mouthful. Most websites (private or public) have a DMCA process in place within their Terms of Service or even have an online form you can fill out. Before submitting a DMCA report, make sure you understand the legal process and possible outcomes, as your content may, or may not, be removed from the website. If you are not the copyright owner of the content at issue, you should not submit a DMCA report, unless you are an authorized representative of the copyright holder. To learn more about the DMCA, and copyright law in general, visit the U.S. Copyright Offices’ website and consult with an Intellectual Property attorney in your state.