Could Your Host Disconnect You?
Jeff Rosenstock is the head of Quote Unquote Records, a small, independent label that gives its music away for free on their site.
However, earlier this month, he suffered a setback as his site was pulled down, seemingly for no reason. According to his host, the cause was that they felt he was infringing copyright even though all of the music on his site was content he had the right to distribute, much of it his own, and no one had filed a complaint.
It was an unnecessary and extremely pro-active takedown, but it has had many other bloggers, musicians and filmmakers worried. Could their ISP do the same thing to them and, if so, what could they do about it?
Fortunately, cases such as Rosenstock’s are relatively rare and the odds of it happening to any one person are very slim. But after Rosenstock endured several days of downtime before his site was restored, it has many very nervous about the potential for disaster.
The Quote Unquote Story
According to Rosenstock, he was notified on about the tenth of the month by his ISP that he had some copyrighted music files on his server. When Rosenstock asked about the specific files, the representative named several songs written and recorded by Rosenstock himself, to which he explained they were his own files.
Rosenstock removed a few tracks by the group 311 that he was storing on the server and then moved on, thinking the matter was resolved.
However, a few days later his site was done, including all of the files. To make matters worse, his hard drive failed and his backups were gone. The only way he could retrieve much of his own music was through his host and they were demanding that he provide proof of ownership of the works before they would restore the site.
The problem was that the proof they requested was a registration form from the U.S. Copyright Office. However, Rosenstock had not registered any of his works, and there was no registration to provide. Though Rosenstock had used Poor Man’s Copyright, it does not work for proving ownership, leaving him with no means to prove he wrote and recorded his own music to his ISP.
Though he was eventually able to convince his host to restore his site, it was only after several days of downtime and a great deal of publicity. While it may work out that the attention could be a positive for the label in the long run, it was a frustrating problem for the label and they almost certainly would rather it never have happened at all.
Still, it is a very worrisome issue for artists that may not be able to attract such attention to their plight if it were to happen to them.
The Good News
The good news is that, for most Webmasters, such an event is extremely unlikely, at worst. The vast majority of Web hosts follow some sort of notice-and-takedown procedure that requires a copyright holder to file a complaint before content is removed. This means that, if you post only work you have the right to post, the odds of being shut down for copyright infringement are very slim.
Most cases where a non-infringing user is shut down on copyright grounds deals with cases where a third party files a false notice, often resulting in a lawsuit against them. Those cases, too, are relatively rare, especially for those that don’t post high-risk content, but they still outnumber overzealous hosts.
Still, if you post a great deal of multimedia content, especially MP3s, there is a possibility that you could be investigated by your Web host. Though typically such investigations do not lead to a site closure, usually they would end the content creator saying that they created the files, it is understandable that many would wish to avoid any inspection or interference from their host.
To that end, I would offer the following suggestions:
- Avoid “Unlimited” Hosts: Unlimited hosts are a bad idea in general, but if you post a large volume of media files, you can practical guarantee that you will come under scrutiny. Not only are such hosts popular among those who wish to set up illegal sites, putting the hosts on guard, but some are known to look for reasons to disconnect sites that use large amounts of resources, since they can not simply cap bandwidth.
- Use Established Media Hosts for Files: Media hosts such as Libsyn and Blip.tv have more experiencing hosting media and can do a better job weeding out the legitimate users from the rampant infringers. Though they can not do much for you should some actually file a takedown notice, it would prevent your site from going down, though your media links would be broken.
- Be Smart About File Names: Though some sites, such as YouTube, have sophisticated fingerprinting techniques that can detect likely infringing material by looking at the content, most Web hosts do not have that. Many may look at your file names and make a determination based solely on that information. Be careful to use clear file names that indicate they are original files, not infringing works.
Though there is no way to completely ensure that you never face such a problem, taking these steps can go a long way to ensuring that your Web hosts doesn’t unnecessarily interfere with your business.
for most of us, an overzealous Web host is not likely going to be a problem. For most of the Web, the problem deals more with hosts not wanting to remove works that clearly are infringing than hosts that want to act without provocation to remove someone’s own creation for copyright infringement.
Simply put, very few Web hosts are going to risk shutting down legitimate customers unless they have some legal requirement to do so. It is not just bad business, but plain stupid.
Still, it is important to remember that working with a Web host is a partnership and that the only way to make it a lasting relationship is for both sides to work together. If you plan on hosting a large amount of your own mp3s and you are worried about this, talk to them and let them know what is going on. If they balk, move the files elsewhere.
There are countless hosts on the Web and nearly all of them will be more than happy to have your business.
Jonathan Bailey writes at Plagiarism Today, a site about plagiarism, content theft and copyright issues on the Web. Jonathan is not a lawyer and none of the information he provides should be taken as legal advice.