This article will cover how to protect your work, as a creator on Patreon, from being stolen and published on another site. It will go over filing a DMCA as well as how to identify when a patron may be stealing/reusing your content. We will also cover how to prevent this from happening with best practices and ways of running your page.
Here at Patreon we know that Piracy is a concern for many creators. Our team has created this FAQ to help answer your questions, and inform you about your options are as a creator.
Below are the most pressing questions we receive regarding Piracy:
1. What can I do to protect my work from piracy on the internet?
The internet has made the copying and distribution of works easy and instantaneous. This reality makes it nearly impossible to stop online piracy proactively or entirely. Copyright law’s “solution” for this came in the form of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This piece of legislation went into effect in 1998, implementing a notice and takedown system by which a copyright owner provides notice to the site where the materials are hosted and that site must act ‘expeditiously’ to then remove these works, or else face legal liability for copyright infringement. This process was adopted by the European Union in the Electronic Commerce Directive 2000 – you can click on the link here.
2. Where can I get a DMCA template?
You can find a DMCA notice template if you click on the link here. If you need any assistance filling it out or submitting it to a site/platform/webhost, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll help you through the process.
3. If I submit a DMCA with my legal name and address, I will get doxxed or harassed. What are my options?
The DMCA notice and takedown procedure is technically a legal complaint, requiring that you provide full contact details. That complaint is then served to the other party, giving them your contact details. If you wish to bring a claim against someone who you feel might dox or harass you if given your contact info, you may choose to bring a notice through a third-party agent. That agent will be required to provide its valid contact information and identify you as the copyright owner that they are representing in bringing the notice.
4. What can I do to protect my work from piracy on Patreon
There is no single solution to this issue. Through our own creators’ feedback, though, we have found some levers that seem to help.
It’s important to point out that online piracy is often less of a technical issue and more of a socioeconomic one. Pirates and law enforcers are constantly innovating around each other in an epic game of cat and mouse. In most cases, both the creator and the pirate are driven by financial incentives, which implies that a new business model might be better at fighting those incentives than any technical solutions ever could be. Until then, the game of cat and mouse will continue inevitably.
Online pirates tend to lump their reasons for piracy into 3 main categories:
- it’s hard to find a legal alternative to access the works
- it only harms giant corporate copyright owners, or
- they don’t even know they are a pirate.
Connecting directly with your patrons is the best way to protect yourself from online piracy. Direct connection with your patrons addresses the first two pirate motivations. If you are able to offer an easier, more reliable and more valuable way to access your works, then they won’t need to go elsewhere. This has a lot to do with properly valuing your tiers as well as distributing your materials in a way that your patrons prefer (which can only be done by engaging in dialogue with your patrons).
This connection can also serve to educate these patrons on the harm that piracy actually does to creators. By showing patrons all that goes into your creative works, you are establishing value. Society has a difficult time placing a monetary value on creativity, so try and show the hours of behind the scenes work that go into making this stuff. It’s unfortunate, but the hours of labour one puts in is about all society knows how to value.
Further, by building a strong healthy community of patrons through direct connection and engagement, you are representing an authentic channel to receive access to your works. Often patrons stumble onto pirate sites and begin downloading materials before they even realise that the materials have been uploaded to the site illegally. You’d be surprised how many of your fans have been accidentally obtaining your works through pirated means without even realising (or without fully thinking about it).
5. What has Patreon been doing to protect my work from being pirated?
In all honesty, there are no technical solutions that work effectively and consistently. Our approach is to build a better membership experience, offering value to patrons that can’t be obtained through a piracy site.
We implemented ‘charge up-front’ payment processing in direct response to the pirate patrons who would pledge some amount to obtain tier rewards and then delete their account before being charged. Charge up-front ensures that you will at least be paid before patrons can access materials.
Our experience with Patreon creators’ works being uploaded to third party sites almost always leads back to a legitimate, paying patron who has accessed these works and may or may not have intended to share your works with the world.
6. Why can’t you do more or tell me more?
Patreon is always trying to help creators out in whatever ways we can. We are seeking to solve the very real issue of getting creators paid. We have chosen to do that in the form of membership business solutions. Patreon powers creators to take ownership of their creations as well as take ownership of the relationship with their fans.
This means that despite all that Patreon would like to do for you, the creator, there are certain limitations of what we can do on your behalf. Copyright law gives copyright owners complete and utter monopoly power over their creative works. Enforcement of your sole right to copy, display, perform, distribute, or create derivative works lies entirely with you.
If your works are infringed on Patreon’s platform, we will work to remove it. If a creator is using Patreon to fund an online piracy site, we will remove that account. If a patron uses Patreon to its exact specification, but then chooses to upload your works elsewhere on the web, unfortunately, Patreon has no ability to control or even go after that site to have your works removed. The right to bring a notice and takedown is exclusively reserved to the copyright owner.
We recently, unsuccessfully pursued legal action against one of these online piracy sites only to be told that:
- Patreon has no rights to the works we are seeking to remove
- the piracy site was being hosted outside the jurisdiction of US copyright law and
- there was this obscure database law that we could try and use to go after this site, but the site refused to acknowledge our cease and desist letter.
The unfortunate reality is that we do not have legal standing to bring suit against these piracy sites and even if we did, all they would have to do is move their servers outside of the jurisdiction. We do not keep creators or patrons informed as we pursue these options because there is no way of informing only the good actors (meaning we risk tipping our hand to these piracy sites if they know the ways in which we are seeking to go after them).
7. Can’t you just ban the offending patrons?
We do ban obvious and fraudulent patrons, with varying levels of success. The unfortunate reality is that there’s very little we can do to prevent bad-acting patrons from creating a new account on a new device under a new name with new payment information. Plus, even with watermarking or some other identifying technology, there's no telling that we’ve found the ‘culprit’.
Back during the Napster days, the Recording Industry Association of America started suing users who downloaded copyrighted works by IP address. There were so many instances of mistaken identity or flat-out inability to identify who actually downloaded the work that the courts actually say an IP address is insufficient for naming a party to a suit.
Similarly, we collect a number of markers to help identify these bad-acting patrons. Anonymity of usernames, emails and even PayPal accounts as well as the reality of shared access to accounts makes it very difficult to determine that we a) have the right person and b) they actually intended to pirate this work.
8. How does Article 13 impact me and/or Patreon?
Article 13 (now Article 17) of the EU Copyright Directive has now made its way to the Member States’ legislative bodies. The EU is giving Member States 24 months to draft legislation. So, the impact of Article 13 on online creators won’t be obvious for a while more.
Online creators do not incur any additional copyright liability than they had before. You are still completely liable for any infringing works you may create and/or post online. What does change with Article 13 is that Patreon will now also be ‘on the hook’ for any and all works our creators upload to our site. That means that Patreon will have to be more proactive about potentially infringing works we do or do not allow on our site.
The way the law works currently is that Patreon does not have an obligation to proactively review our site for copyright infringement. Instead, Patreon is safe from liability as long as we act expeditiously to remove any potentially infringing works once we are put on notice of their existence on our platform. Article 13 makes platforms liable whether they are put on notice or not, which means most platforms will begin implementing proactive screening of the works they choose to allow on their services.
Not as frequently asked, but good to know
1. Are there behaviours that patrons exhibit that can clue me in that they’re stealing my content?
That being said, the typical behaviour for truly bad acting pirate-patrons is short-lived (they pledge only long enough to scrape and upload the works elsewhere) and likely disengaged from your chats and forums.
We’ve found some success leaning on a patron community to weed out the bad actors, but this approach is rife with false positives, which ends up in more of a Salem Witch Trials situation than we like to find on Patreon.
Whether a patron exhibits bad behaviours or not, the approach should be the same to all patrons for deterring piracy (click on this link to find #4 above).
2. If I’m a creator not based in the US, how can I bolster my copyright claim in the American court of law so I’m protected?
The United States is part of the World Intellectual Property Organisation. If your country is a part of WIPO as well, then there is no need to bolster anything to bring a claim. Though, we should probably point out that in the US system you can be awarded way more money in damages (up to $150,000 per wilful infringement) if you’ve registered your copyright before the infringement occurred.
3. What can I do to reward the behaviour I want from patrons when they interact with my content rather than punish the behaviour I don’t want?
With all matters of online piracy, one thing that is consistently proven to be true: “punishing” the bad behavior of online pirates only spurs more piracy. Every time a major online piracy site gets shut down, another pops up in its place.
That being said, building a tight-knit community of your closest and most loyal fans is a sure-fire way to earn a living from your work regardless of where it may be pirated online. This is Patreon’s membership business approach to matters of online piracy. There is no magic-bullet technical solution, and putting more and more restrictions on access only fuels the piracy of those inaccessible works.
Most creative industries have slowed their direct assault on online piracy sites in lieu of finding better alternative business models that connect with fans, offer exclusives, deliver works or rewards in ways that are difficult to pirate (self-destruct Snapchat-type solutions, livestreams, etc.) We couldn’t agree more. Build a better membership business for your patrons, and matters of online piracy will have significantly less influence on your financial earnings.
4. What do I do if someone starts a project with the same name as mine?
To be honest, not much. In the world of copyright, names are too short to be given protection. So you have no claims on the copyright front for those creators/projects with the same name as you.
You may have a trademark claim. If you believe that someone is offering a very similar product or service and is using a name or wordmark that you are currently using or have filed an intent to use with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, then you may have a claim for that name to either be changed or removed.
If you do not possess a trademark in the name, then you likely do not have any direct legal action available to you. You may, though, choose to reach out directly with the creator and let them know of the similar names. Often the other party is just as concerned about the duplicative names going on and does not wish to confuse or mislead potential patrons.
5. What if I collaborate with someone on a video but then they claim to be the sole owner?
Get it in writing! This happens so often and is technically not a copyright issue, but rather a contract dispute. We do not honour copyright notices for removal if there is a true and honest dispute as to who the actual copyright owner is.
Copyright vests in the creators at the moment of fixation into a tangible medium (legal speak for the moment you create it). You are a co-creator of this work, so you have copyrights in that work whether they claim sole ownership or not.
This is a tricky situation and may actually come down to whether or not you were in the employment of this individual or working as an independent contractor. Issues of joint ownership in a copyrighted work almost always looks at the intent of the creators at the time of creation. Going forward, it’s always a good idea to understand the scope of your work/ownership when beginning a project with someone else.
6. What do I do if someone copies a logo?
This is a trademark claim. There is currently no notice and takedown system in place for trademarks like there is with copyrights. However, most platforms will act on trademark claims as long as it includes all of the required fields present in a copyright claim. If the trademark is not removed by the platform, you have the option of trying to resolve the matter directly with the copier of the logo, or engage legal representation to draft a cease and desist letter.
7. What legal tips do you have for protecting a brand?
The standard for brand protection is “likelihood of confusion”. This is very different from copyright, where the issue is copying a work. The two issues that brands need to be protected from is typically either someone tarnishing your brand or falsely associating itself with your brand to reap the benefits of any goodwill you’ve established in the market.
It’s always best to start with a light touch on these issues. Chances are just as likely that someone has accidentally come up with a similar name or mark as they are to have nefariously stolen your brand for their products/services.