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Updated on 07/31/2017 by Gavin Phillips

Until recently, I’d never actually met anyone that had received a copyright infringement letter for downloading films on the internet. Their Internet Service Provider contacted them directly, informing them that they would take them to court unless they agree to pay a set fine.

My friend was, unfortunately, culpable. Not wanting to risk a court appearance, as well as a larger fine, he settled with his ISP and the copyright holder.

ISPs have made it increasingly difficult to access copyrighted material online. The most popular torrent sites have been systematically shut-down or censored 5 Methods to Bypass Blocked Sites 5 Methods to Bypass Blocked Sites You're at work or school, but you want to check on Facebook, or watch something on YouTube. It's blocked - so how do you get around this and ruin your productivity? Read More . Video-hosting sites suffer similar fates. At the same time, on-demand services such as Spotify and Netflix have curbed the demand for illegal content.

But that doesn’t mean it has gone anywhere, and as my friend illustrates, copyright holders are just as passionate about protecting their property as ever.

So, what happens if you receive a letter? Let’s take a look, and consider some general precautions, too.

We Are Writing to Inform You

We are writing to inform you that [your ISP] recently received notification from a copyright owner of a copyright violation that appears to involve [your ISP account]. The work(s) identified by the copyright owner in its complaint are listed below.

We are contacting you because our records indicate that the Internet Protocol (IP) address provided to us by the copyright owner was assigned to your service on the date and time identified by the copyright owner.

When you open a letter containing those words, you could be entering a world of pain. Copyright infringement is a serious crime that ISPs have a duty to investigate; after all, their network is the focal point of the illegal activity.

This Is Exactly How to Handle a Copyright Infringement Notice infringement big letters copyright
Image Credit: christitzeimaging.com via Shutterstock.com

It should come as no surprise that your ISP is tracking your every movement online. They can see the sites you visit, when you visit them, how long you lurk there for, and more. Included in that is your download activity, which will be inextricably linked to your assigned IP address.

Please note that we have not provided any of your private information to the copyright holder at this time. [ISP] will not provide your identifying information without a lawful subpoena or other lawful process. However, upon receipt of a lawful subpoena or other lawful process [your ISP] will release your information to the copyright owner

This aspect of a copyright infringement notice varies by ISP. The vast majority of ISPs in the U.S. and throughout Europe will issue a first warning similar to this. But, as the document states, if they receive a request, they have to comply — by law.

It isn’t just as simple as changing ISP, either. You might get a clean slate with a new ISP, but unless you’re changing address (and potentially your actual name), that infringement record will hang around.

Make Sure It Doesn’t Happen Again

Once the letter is on your doorstep, you have to know that you’re on a list. (Aren’t we all on list somewhere, anyway?!) While you might not be able to have your name removed from that list, you can certainly ensure nothing else features alongside your name and IP address.

This Is Exactly How to Handle a Copyright Infringement Notice Copyright definition big letters

So, what can you do to ensure you don’t trip the switch and incur the wrath of a copyright holder (and your ISP)?

1. Stop All the Downloading

It should go without saying… but stop downloading copyrighted materials through illicit sources. If you’re not sure what the copyright status of a file is, it is best not to download, and attempt to contact the relevant copyright holder. But, in this day and age, we know that torrenting a film isn’t legal What Motivates People to Record and Upload Pirated Movies and Music? What Motivates People to Record and Upload Pirated Movies and Music? What do release group members get out of uploading the latest episode of Game of Thrones? We talked to a few and found out. Read More . The same goes for music, books, software, video games, and so on. (Though there are some grey areas with video games 4 Sites Where You Can Download Old PC Games For Free 4 Sites Where You Can Download Old PC Games For Free Want to try downloading some old PC games for free? Here are the sites where you can find the best games of yore, free to download! Read More … )

The rise of Android-based Kodi boxes have further complicated matters. They’re sold openly in shops and on the internet, but the streaming apps might be using copyrighted material. Dan Price explains if it is legal to own and use a Kodi box What Are Kodi Boxes and Is It Legal to Own One? What Are Kodi Boxes and Is It Legal to Own One? With Kodi boxes becoming increasingly popular, we set out to explain what Kodi boxes are and offer you a definitive answer on their legality. Read More .

2. Talk to Your Family/Housemates/etc.

If it wasn’t you doing the downloading, talk nicely with everyone you know who has access to your account… hopefully they’ll be honest with you. It could be that one of your kids doesn’t fully understand the risks and issues, and want access to a show they cannot access otherwise.

3. Check the Letter for Details

If no one confesses to the deed, refer back to the letter. In the vast majority of cases, each copyright infringement is individually listed, including name, and type of file. So, if you see the file is the latest Kendrick Lamar album, chances are it wasn’t Great Aunt Ethel (but if she did, props to her). Regardless, the information will help you narrow down who is downloading on your internet connection — you can talk to them about safe downloading, copyright infringement, and alternative sources.

4. Go Internet Usage Hunting

If it really is no one in your household, even after you’ve given the kids the third degree, it might be time to look elsewhere. First stop is your router. While your kids might not use the internet to download copyrighted material, what if they gave the neighbors kids the internet password? Better yet, what if a neighbor is piggybacking on your internet, stealing your bandwidth and triggering the wrath of copyright holders?

Your router will show you any connections. Furthermore, some will even keep a log of recent connections. If there are more devices than you’re aware of, it is time to consider your options.

Use your web browser to access your router interface. The address varies by router, but many companies now print the default router address on the device. My connected device list looks like so:

This Is Exactly How to Handle a Copyright Infringement Notice Connected Router Wireless

I can account for all of those devices. If you cannot, you might have found your copyright infringing culprit. Unfortunately, finding out exactly which neighbor is piggybacking is a bit more difficult (and you might not want to cause a confrontation). In this case, your router will have some form of IP address or MAC address filtering or blocking that you can apply.

5. Virus Scan

The last tip is the good old virus or malware scan. While somewhat unlikely, there is a chance that a Trojan is exposing your hard drive How To Simply and Effectively Deal With Remote Access Trojans How To Simply and Effectively Deal With Remote Access Trojans Smell a RAT? If you think you've been infected with a Remote Access Trojan, you can get easily get rid of it by following these simple steps. Read More to the internet, resulting in unauthorized file sharing. Unlikely, but possible. There are better things to do with remote access to someone’s computer than use it download the latest Transformers film.

Legitimate Downloading Only

I’m sure there are people out there that have never downloaded a copyright protected file in their entire life. I’m not going to lie: I’m not one of them. But as internet services become better, and cater to a massive range of useful things, the need to lurk potentially dangerous download sites 10 Easy Ways to Never Get a Virus 10 Easy Ways to Never Get a Virus With a little basic training, you can completely avoid the problem of viruses and malware on your computers and mobile devices. Now you can calm down and enjoy the internet! Read More to find obscure Indonesian drum and bass becomes less and less.

Furthermore, protecting yourself has become easier, too. We’re certainly not advocating downloading copyrighted material, but a VPN is excellent for protecting your personal online privacy, downloading or not.

Has this article helped you to understand why you received an infringement letter? Has it helped you make a plan to stop it from happening again? Let us know your experiences with copyright infringement in the comments below!

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  1. Anonymous
    August 14, 2015 at 5:27 pm

    I'm new to this and kinda freaking out, lol. Our notice is about a specific song (downloaded from frostwire) I'm pretty sure it was done by my 10 year old nephew and the song and app have been deleted. I ignored the first email and have now received a second. What should I do?

    • adviser
      September 14, 2017 at 1:54 pm

      Just ignore that second email too.
      What these trolls are doing is called bullying.
      be more careful next time and use some other old school techniques, that you can't find in this article.

  2. anonymous
    April 30, 2015 at 11:29 am

    dont do any of that unless your doing the tunneling method tho, those alone dont save you, they just make the tunnel insufficient

  3. anonymous
    April 30, 2015 at 11:29 am

    oh yes, and disable ipv6 too!

  4. anonymous
    April 30, 2015 at 11:28 am

    first off, peer block does nothing AND PEER BLOCK DOESNT WORK with modern methods of filesharing, if your using old kazaa/napster its great, but not in this day and age.

    for the smart among you, I offer the path- disable WebRTC, geolocation, and either get a virtual personal server to do the dirty work, or a tunnel to a server and use end to end encryption. Ive avoided the trade names for these things to keep the stupid in their place getting caught so I CAN KEEP DOING IT while your the low hanging fruit.

    for the dumb, you are the low hanging fruit. I've offered the path, it is up to you to be able to utilize it. I considered writing a quick guide to privacy, but realized i need low hanging fruit like you to make myself more difficult to unmask. once they think everyone is doing it the smart way, and nobody is getting busted, they will begin looking at folks like me with new legislation that makes my methods either insufficient, or illegal.

    right now, it works, and its legal/affordable.

  5. Brian
    February 20, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    "Stop downloading copyrighted materials. If you’re not sure if it is something that carries a copyright, you’re probably best off to not download it."

    You're confusing downloading copyrighted materials with copyright infringement. Downloading copyrighted materials isn't necessarily illegal. The copyright holder(s) may have chosen to make the material freely available (e.g., under a license like GPL) or the downloader may have purchased the copyrighted material (e.g., from iTunes).

    Technically, practically anytime you view a web page your browser is automatically downloading copyrighted materials...

  6. Derek
    November 25, 2009 at 7:45 pm

    Guy,

    I feel compelled to point out that the step you outline in your forth point only gives one a false sense of security. MAC address filtering is a very common myth when it comes to wireless security. Those with the knowledge can easily circumvent the MAC filter by spoofing the MAC addresses of the clients connecting to your wireless router. All it takes is less than 5 minutes and a program like kismet to pull them out of the air.

    The best way to secure one's wireless router is to take the time to configure it and not leave it set at defaults. WPA2 should be configured if it's available. If it's not, WPA will suffice. If all that's supported is WEP, it's time to get a new wireless router.

    • Guy McDowell
      November 26, 2009 at 12:48 am

      Not false, just incomplete. Those with the knowledge to spoof a MAC address may very well have the knowledge, or at least inclination, to crack your WPA2 security. That information, and the applications to do it, is available on the Web.

      I also pointed the user to another MakeUseOf.com article on strengthening their WiFi router's security.

      I've said it before and I'll say it again - there is no such thing as secured, only an acceptable level of security.

  7. Joe
    November 25, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    So my little brother uses my computer some times and apparently he got into it with some people on youtube. They got his email, tracked his myspace, and MY I.P. address too (most likely). They're saying they will get more information about him but in reality it's my computer, I use it for work, he only uses it to play around. Should I be worried about this? Is is possible for them to hack my computer if they have my I.P.? would PeerBlock help at all? If someone can answer my questions please, I will really appreciate it.

    • Guy McDowell
      November 25, 2009 at 7:08 pm

      If I were you, I would make sure that I have a decent firewall. Not Windows Firewall, but something else. Check elsewhere on MakeUseOf.com for good suggestions.

      You can also change your IP address. Go to whatismyipaddress.com. That will tell you what your IP address currently is. Now, go shut off your modem for a few minutes and then turn it on. Go back to whatismyipaddress.com and check what it is now. It should be different.

      Overall, I wouldn't be that worried. Getting hacked by someone you flipped off on the Internet is unlikely. It just isn't worth the effort for them to do that.

      • Joe
        November 26, 2009 at 7:32 pm

        wow, thanks Guy, that was quick and will follow your advice. Cheers!

  8. noob
    November 25, 2009 at 6:24 am

    how did the isp knew the email in first place?

    • Guy McDowell
      November 26, 2009 at 12:00 am

      When you sign up for Internet service, they usually assign you an e-mail address or ask you to give them one to contact you with.

      If not, they do need your phone number and home address, so they could just call you or send you a letter, too.

  9. anonymous
    November 24, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    this article is over 9000

    • Guy McDowell
      November 25, 2009 at 12:21 am

      What does that mean?

      • Bob3000
        November 25, 2009 at 10:57 am

        It's a stupid internet meme. Feel free to delete it.

  10. GingerWench
    November 24, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    Great point about "sharing" folders and viruses ... something I'm not sure most people would even think about in regards to these infringement issues. Food for thought, thanks for sharing! =)

  11. John Crissman
    November 24, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    I got the same letter from Verizon about 18 months ago. I downloaded a program called Peer Block (formerly Peer Guardian) and now they never even know I'm downloading the stuff. It acts as a personal firewall that blocks all known RIAA/MPAA/Media Sentry/etc IP addresses from attempting to download anything from you when your torrenting. The list of known IP addresses is updated almost daily.

  12. gouthami.b
    November 24, 2009 at 6:12 am

    Informative post.Very helpful..

  13. Sean
    November 23, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    Excellent material here. Downloading, and most definitely sharing, copyrighted material is a risk most people don't associate with potential financial and legal consequences. But it seems lately that the groups that represent copyright holders are getting more and more aggressive in protecting their clients. I guess, as the saying goes, don't do the crime if you can't do the time. More importantly, understand what constitutes a crime and try not to cross that line...

    • Guy McDowell
      November 23, 2009 at 9:57 pm

      In Canada, there seems to be some confusion about the legality of downloading. One judge did rule that it was okay to download copyrighted materials because we pay an extra fee on all recordable media, which goes to the movie and music folks to help defray the lost revenue by people taping or saving the music and movies.
      In Canada, a judge can make law by making a ruling like this. However, I think it has since been overturned.
      In any case, if you think it might be illegal, unethical or immoral - just don't do it. Good life rule, really.