REMOVING YOUR IMAGES
A DIY GUIDE TO DMCA TAKEDOWNS
WHAT IS THE DMCA AND HOW CAN IT HELP ME?
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a US law that creates greater penalties for copyright infringement on the internet. DMCA protects your rights to your creations including all kinds of books, writing, photos, film and digital media. This means, for instance, if someone is using your pictures without your permission on another site (yes, even your selfies) in many cases they are infringing on your copyright.
As most images reposted for the purposes of harassment or revenge porn are taken by the victim, they are the photographer and own the copyright to the image. This is the premise that allows victims to file a DMCA Takedown Notice, or a notice to a web host that material has been reposted on their site without permission, and will need to be removed.
This is not intended to be a replacement for any legal action for which your situation may apply, nor does a Takedown Notice have an absolute success rate. This guide simply outlines one of the many strategies that can be an effective first step in reclaiming control over your images. You can start by following the instructions below.
HOW TO FILE A TAKEDOWN NOTICE
BEFORE YOU BEGIN:
Examine the website that has your photos. Is there a means to flag or report images? Check out the website's Terms of Service or Copyright pages for details. Many sites like Facebook or apps like Instagram have built-in abuse reporting systems and web forms that you should attempt to use first. Some pages provide their own web form for filing a notice, an example of which you can find here:
Wherever possible you should use this kind of form first as it's almost always the fastest way to get a response. Try Googling "(website name) DMCA" to see if you can find the exact page you need indexed as a search result. You may even find some helpful information posted by others on how to get a response on that specific site.
First you need to find out who hosts the site so you can find the correct person to contact with your takedown request. You can use DomainTools to find out this information. Enter the website address in the "Whois Lookup" search box in the upper right. On the resulting page you should be able to find an email address, and sometimes a person's name that you can use to address your notice.
Second, we have to check the Copyright Agent. DMCA notices aren't considered "proper" unless sent to the domain's Copyright Agent (if they have one) as registered with the Library of Congress. That address and information often differs from what's listed on the Whois info for the domain, so make sure you also see if the website is listed on this page. Hit Ctrl+F or Command+F to search the page and speed up the process.
If there's no agent listed, the website can't claim DMCA immunity (important if you get in to a true legal scuffle, but don't worry about it right now) so you can just go ahead and use the contact information you found for the Whois listing on DomainTools.
It's time to draft your Takedown Notice. The following template contains all of the key pieces you will need to provide to the web host. The parts that you should replace with your own information are highlighed in red.
"Subject: DMCA Violation Notice
To Whom It May Concern,
I, the undersigned, certify under penalty of perjury that I am the owner of certain photos, said owner being named (your full legal name). I have a good faith belief that the distribution of the materials identified below are not authorized by the above Owner, its agent, or the law and therefore infringes the Owner’s rights. Please act expeditiously to remove or disable access to the material or items claimed to be infringing.
Location of infringing material: (URL of your stolen photo on the website, you can right click the image and then "Copy image URL" to get this information)
Description of infringing material: (this can be as simple a description as "an original photograph for which I am the photographer and hold the copyright")
Original location of copyrighted photos: (you may either describe the orignal location as on a device you own, paste a link to your social media page even if it's locked to the public, to any other original publication location)
I may be contacted at:
(your full legal name)
Dated (today's date)
Please send me at the address noted below a prompt response indicating the actions you have taken to resolve this matter.
/(your full legal name)
Email: (your email)"
Please note that the forward slash that comes before your name on the second to last line is an indication of a digital signature, be sure to include it.
It's time to send your message. Make sure you double-check the website's Terms of Service or Copyright page to find out how they request that their DMCA notices should be filed. You are required to send them this notice in the format they request if they specify one, whether it's through their own web form, via a specific email, or even something like fax or registered mail. No matter how silly or elaborate it seems, you have to follow their instructions.
In most cases, if no other method is specified you can just copy and paste your filled out template in to an email, and send it to the Whois email address you found on DomainTools.
I highly recommend that you take the extra step to find all of the other locations of your image and repeat this process. Google Reverse Image Search will be able to tell you other websites where your picture may also be posted. Click on the camera icon in the search bar and either paste in the URL of your image or upload it from your drive. Hit search, and then repeat the processes above for each website that appears in the search results.
I know this feels a bit like a time-consuming game of whack-a-mole, but you will feel better knowing you have done your best to cover all of your bases. And you've already created an effective template that you can use across several sites, so now you have it ready to go when and if the picture pops up anywhere else.
All you can do now is wait for a response or for your image to be removed, so try to keep yourself busy in the meantime. Tell a friend you trust about what's going on, talk about your anxieties, don't be afraid to ask for help. This happens to a lot of people and you never know when someone you know might have experienced the exact same thing and can give you tips or support.
If your image is posted on a web forum, odds are your harasser is using an image hosting service like Imgur or Photobucket to host the photo. Instead of or in addition to filing your notice with the forum's web host (ex: Reddit), you should make sure to file this DMCA notice with the actual image uploading website (ex: Imgur). Most will have their own web form that you can use to report the copyright violation for images being hosted on their service, an example of which you can find here:
WHAT NOT TO DO:
Particularly if your photo is being posted by a harasser on a forum where discussion is going on with many other strangers, I advise that you do not create an account to ask them to remove it, argue with them or otherwise call attention to the image. The Streisand Effect is a term for the idea that you can actually call greater attention to something by trying to hide it, and this concept is especially relevant with the posting of intimate images or other stolen pictures.
It's important that you work as stealthily as possible while you sort out your notices. On many forums, any post on a thread will push that thread up to the top of the page, ensuring that more people see it and feel compelled not just to engage in the argument, but also to save copies of your photo in order to sabotage your efforts to get it removed. If you do not alert anyone to the fact that you know your image has been posted without your permission, ideally you will get the image removed by the host before posters even realize that anyone objected to its presence on the site in the first place.
In these first stages, it's also inadvisible to try sending legal threats to sue, particularly if you are not yet aware of how existing laws may or may not apply to your situation. Threats that appear empty or panicked will often embolden harassers, as it lets them know that they are achieving their desired goal.
Don't worry, if you end up needing to explore further legal options, they will be informed when the time comes. Check out the FAQs page to find out more about your legal rights should the DMCA Takedown Notice not give you the result you need.