Should you find that your copyrighted work has been published elsewhere online without your permission, the first step typically involves sending a polite message asking for the content to be brought down (or if you are willing to grant someone permission to use it elsewhere) be shown with proper attribution.
Should your polite requests go unaddressed or should you be the victim of outright theft (widespread, automated copying of your work probably carried out by a scraper), we recommend sending DMCA complaints to the site owner, his or her host or publishing platform, and major search engines (guides to doing so with Google, Bing, and Yahoo!).
We also recommend hitting shameless, heartless plagiarists and content thefts where it really matters: the money department.
By filing complaints with their ad hosts and affiliate partners, you can more profoundly dissuade them from using your work (or that of other people).
To do so:
- Learn the basics of secondary liability and understand that the complaint reporting process with advertisers is far more vague than that with other channels, but can still help
- Determine the offending individual’s ad partners
- Find the proper channels for filing complaints directly with advertisers
- File DMCA complaints with the ad partners
Read on for more detail regarding each step. Specific procedures for filing a complaint with AdSense, as well as a template for submitting email complaints with other ad networks, can be found at the bottom of this guide.
Advertisers and Secondary Liability
According to the US Patent and Trademark Office (as stated in this PowerPoint presentation), “liability that is placed on a person who did not directly infringe the copyright but who helped the infringer or benefited from the infringer.”
There are two types of secondary liability: vicarious liability and contributory liability.
Vicarious liability exists “To punish one who unfairly reaps the benefits of another’s infringing activity.” (Artists Music, Inc. v. Reed Publishing, Inc., 31 USPQ 2d 1623 (S.D.N.Y. 1994)).
For an advertiser to have vicarious liability, it must maintain the “right and ability to control infringing activity” and have “direct financial interest in the infringement,” but there is no requirement of knowledge (on the part of the defendant) of the infringement in question.
Contributory liability addresses “whether the defendant, with knowledge of the infringing activity, induces, causes or materially contributes to the infringing conduct of another.”
Both knowledge of infringing activity and substantial material contribution to the infringing activity are factors that are considered when determining contributory liability.
Vicarious vs. Contributory Liability
- Vicarious: requires ability to control infringing activity and direct financial investment in the infringement, but does not require knowledge
- Contributory: requires material contribution and knowledge of the infringing activity, but does not require financial investment in the infringement
Advertisers and Secondary Liability in Practice
Because advertisers may make a profit from material posted by one of their publishers that infringes on your intellectual property rights, they may be held vicariously liable. If you notify advertisers of infringement, they may be exposed to contributory liability as well (at least given some precedents set with an online case in which the online ad network Chitica was close getting in trouble for contributory liability).
One would therefore conclude that an advertiser, if notified that it may be contributing to infringing activity, will stop doing so by ceasing to serve ads onto the individual’s infringing content. Though some online advertisers are nonresponsive to intellectual property complaints, many networks do take action, which is why we recommend contacting them in dire cases.
It should nevertheless be noted that while this may seem pretty straightforward, there is not much precedence for cases involving advertisers and vicarious liability online, and many online advertisers do not have clear contact channels regarding intellectual property complaints. If you decide to send a complaint to an advertiser (especially one that isn’t very large and established), you may find the process to be difficult and ultimately fruitless.
How to Find Which Ad and Affiliate Partners a Website Uses
In some cases, it is easy to determine the affiliate programs and ad partners associated with a page.
Google AdSense ads are frequently marked as “Ads by Google,” and even if you can’t find a clear indication that ads are from Google, you can check a page for a Google AdSense publisher ID by:
- Right clicking on the page containing your stolen content and select “View Source” or “View Page Source” - this will enable you to see the code behind the page
- Using the command+F or control+F functions of your keyboard to search “ca-pub”
- Checking to see if that term shows up. If it does, it will be accompanied by a person’s AdSense publisher number, it will look something like google_ad_client = "ca-pub-4167857836565934"
Using the same basic methods, you can also search for names of other major affiliate and ad partners, such as Amazon and eBay.
Particular programs to look out for include:
- Exit Junction
- Dynamic Oxygen
How to File DMCA Complaints with Ad and Affiliate Partners
Once you have information on the advertising partners utilized by someone who has stolen your content, you may file complaints directly with the advertisers directly.
Few ad and affiliate networks have specific channels dedicated to copyright complaints, so you may need to contact the advertiser in question through a more generic channel. We recommend Googling “how to submit a complaint with ______” to see if anyone has specific (and up-to-date) tips to share regarding more obscure advertisers.
How to File a DMCA Complaint with AdSense
Because AdSense is the most popular and pervasive advertising network (and because it provides a pretty clear channel for submitting complaints), we will more detail on filing a DMCA Complaint with the network.
To file a DMCA Complaint with AdSense, visit the Google AdSense policy violation form and be prepared to enter the following information
- Your name
- Your email address (should AdSense need to contact you for more information)
- Your status with regard to AdSense (whether you are a publisher, advertiser, or neither)
- The violating URL
- The type of media on which the violation was found (most likely, you will select “website”)
- The description of the location of the offending content found at the URL (feel free to use our template below)
- The type of violation (under Copyrighted Content, check the box reading “This site is distributed someone else’s copyrighted material, perhaps without permission”)
- Violation details (feel free to use our second template below)
Template for a description of the offending content found at the URL
Material infringing my copyright appears at the above URL [if there are multiple elements on the page, specify a specific location].
The copyrighted material, which I contend belongs to me and appears illegally at the URL listed above, is the following: [Work type- e.g. an article, photo, video, blog post] titled “[Title]” by [Name], posted on [Month, DD, YYYY]
My original work appears at: [URL of your work]
Template for violation details
This submission is a Notice of Infringement as authorized in § 512(c) of the U.S. Copyright Law under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). I wish to report an instance of Copyright Infringement. The infringing material appears on the content onto which AdSense ads are served. The nature and location of the infringing material is described above.
Template for Filing a DMCA Complaint with An Ad Network
Should you be sending a complaint to an ad network through one of its contact forms or email addresses, feel free to adapt the following template.
Date: [Month, DD, YYYY]
To Whom It May Concern,
This letter is a Notice of Infringement as authorized in § 512(c) of the U.S. Copyright Law under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). I wish to report an instance of Copyright Infringement. The infringing material appears on a page onto which your Service’s ads are served.
1. The copyrighted material, which I contend belongs to me and appears illegally on the Service, is the following:
[Work type- e.g. an article, photo, video, blog post] titled “[Title]” by [Name], posted on [Month, DD, YYYY]
It appears at: [URL of your work]
2. The page infringing the copyrighted work appears at the website address: [URL]
3. My contact information is as follows:
4. I have a good faith belief that use of the copyrighted materials as described above is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.
5. I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the information in the notification is accurate and that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.
[Printed Full Name]