How to Handle a Copyright Infringement Notice From Your ISP
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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 that they would be taken them to court unless they agree to pay a set fine.

My friend was culpable and not wanting to risk a court appearance as well as a large fine, settled with his ISP and the copyright holder.

Receiving a copyright infringement notice is worrying. What happens if you receive a copyright notice? How does your ISP know about your copyright infringement?

“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.”

A letter containing those words is usually a precursor for a series of negative events. Copyright infringement is a serious crime that ISPs have a duty to investigate. After all, their network is the focal point of the copyright infringement.

Your ISP is tracking your every movement online. They can see the sites you visit, when you visit them, how long you lurk there, and more. Your ISP can also see your download activity, including any peer-to-peer services (torrenting, for instance), which they will link directly to your 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.”

Your ISP might not release your details immediately. The vast majority of ISPs release a warning similar to this after receiving a notice of copyright infringement. However, as the infringement warning states, if the ISP receives a lawful request, they have to comply. It is the law.

You cannot simply change your ISP to escape a copyright infringement notification, either. You might get a clean slate with a new ISP. But unless you are changing your address, and in reality, your name, that copyright infringement record will follow you around. As with many things relating to the law, it is difficult to run from your problems.

What Is Copyright Infringement?

When a studio releases a film or a musician releases an album into the public realm, the vast majority of the time, this content features copyright protection. It isn’t just music or films. Photographs, paintings, books, articles, podcasts, and countless other types of content carry copyright.

Copyright is a legal right that protects work, granting the original content creator exclusive rights over the ownership and distribution of the work. Copyright can and does expire. Most major copyright holders extend the copyright of important works to maintain their control over their original content (or over copyright purchased from other creators).

When you receive a copyright infringement notice from your ISP, it will contain the exact copyright allegedly broken on your network.

For instance, a Comcast notice of claim of copyright infringement will feature an email subject line such as “Notice of Action under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).” The email body explains Comcast’s obligation to notify the network user (you) that a copyright owner has found an infringement on your network.

The email will also list the copyright infringing work, usually using the exact file name, the infringing IP address, the infringement type (e.g., P2P, illegal stream, etc.), and the reporting copyright owner.

The following Comcast DMCA notice was sent after the original poster downloaded the original World of Warcraft 1.12 Client using a torrent program:

Of course, it isn’t just Comcast that send DMCA takedown notices. ISPs are compelled by law to send the notice, regardless of their “stance” on pirating. Word to the wise, ISPs stance on pirating isn’t good.

The Google Fiber DMCA copyright infringement varies, depending on the “amount” of copyright infringement. However, the Google Fiber DMCA usually reads “Notice of Unauthorized Use of Copyrights Owned by [insert copyright owner].” Like the Comcast DMCA email, it instructs the network owner as to the copyright infringing work, the IP address, and so on.

google fiber dmca copyright infringement notice

Copyright infringement emails and letters from Verizon, Bell, Rogers, and other U.S.A. ISPs all follow a similar pattern.

AMC Issues DMCA Threats Regarding The Walking Dead

Copyright infringement isn’t always obvious, either. For instance, Season Six of AMC’s The Walking Dead finished on a massive cliff-hanger. Understandably, during the off-season, fan sites began speculating as to the outcome of the cliff-hanger (I’m trying hard not to include any spoilers here!).

However, AMC threated The Walking Dead fan site, The Spoiling Dead with legal action. If during their speculation regarding the cliff hanger they hit upon the correct outcome for the return to Season Seven, “AMC says they will sue us . . . Their stance is that making such a prediction would be considered copyright infringement.”

Game of Thrones IP-Echelon DMCA Notices

Certain titles attract higher levels of pirating. In recent years, Game of Thrones copyright owner, HBO, has sent tens of thousands of copyright infringement notices as fans pirate the latest Game of Thrones series. HBO teamed up with the anti-piracy company, IP-Echelon, to serve and enforce the copyright infringement notices.

However, HBO also took another step to reducing the amount of Game of Thrones pirating taking place. Instead of restricting Game of Thrones to cable-only, it first added each series to its on-demand streaming service The Best HBO Shows of All Time and Where to Stream Them The Best HBO Shows of All Time and Where to Stream Them From comedies to dramas, HBO's original series have won kudos and praise from viewers and reviewers alike. Here are the best HBO shows of all time and where to stream them. Read More , followed by allowing an Amazon Prime channel add-on subscription (albeit at a steep price of $14.99 per month). The result was less piracy, more engagement, and potentially a happier audience.

How to Avoid Copyright Infringement?

Once you receive a copyright infringement letter or email, you are on a list. (Aren’t we all on a list somewhere?) While you might not be able to have your name removed from that list, you can certainly ensure no additional copyright infringements appear alongside your name and IP address.

What measures can you take to make sure that there are no copyright infringements on your home network?

1. Stop All the Downloading (of Illegal Content)

It should go without saying… but stop downloading illegal content through illicit sources. If you are unsure what the copyright status of a file is, it is best not to download. Instead, you can head to the U.S. Copyright Office website and complete a search for whatever the file, film, album, or content is.

My tip is to use a keyword, rather than the exact file name.

The rise of Android-based Kodi boxes and other streaming services further complicate matters. Kodi boxes are sold openly in shops and online, but the streaming apps available on those boxes may well use copyrighted materials. 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? In this article, not only do we explain what Kodi boxes are, but also offer you a definitive answer on their legality. Read More .

2. Talk to Your Housemates About Copyright Infringement

If you are certain it was not you downloading the latest episode of Game of Thrones, go and chat to your family, housemates, or anyone with access to your internet connection. Hopefully, you can have an honest conversation about the issue of pirating illegal content, as well as the potential repercussions.

(You could show them a few legal download alternatives, too How to Legally Download Movies for Free to Watch Offline How to Legally Download Movies for Free to Watch Offline One of the best ways to stay occupied while traveling is watching movies. However, streaming sucks data, so why not download movies to watch offline instead? Especially if it's legal. Read More .)

3. Check the Letter for Details, Watch Out for Scams

If you meet a wall of silence, head back to the email or letter and check for details. Copyright infringement enforcement letters list the infringing content, including the file name and download method. 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 in the copyright infringement letter or email will help you narrow down who is downloading what on your internet connection. Talk to them about safe downloading, copyright infringement, and alternative sources.

The other thing to consider is if your copyright infringement letter is a scam. Some copyright infringement notices also contain a notice of payment, causing people to panic and pay without considering if the letter is real.

For instance, scammers piggybacking on the HBO Game of Thrones IP-Echelon copyright infringement sent thousands of scam emails including a direct settlement fee of $150 for the alleged copyright infraction.

If you receive an email from IP-Echelon, Lionsgate, Rightscorp, CEG TEK, or any other copyright enforcement firm, don’t rush to pay. Do your research first.

4. Check Your Home Network for Intruders

If it really is no one in your household, even after you give the kids and Great Aunt Ethel the third degree, you should check your home network. Your first stop is your router. Your kids might not be pirating copyrighted material, but what if they gave the internet password to a friend?

How about a neighbor 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:

bt hub home network

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 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 to download the Jumanji remake.

Use Legal Content Services to Avoid Copyright Infringement

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 to find obscure Indonesian drum and bass becomes less and less.

Furthermore, protecting yourself has become easier, too. MakeUseOf certainly does not advocate downloading copyrighted material. But a VPN is excellent for protecting your personal online privacy, downloading content or not.

Get three FREE months of ExpressVPN when you subscribe for a year.

Explore more about: BitTorrent, Copyright, Online Privacy, Peer to Peer, Software Piracy.

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  1. Michael_M
    April 23, 2019 at 9:12 am

    I'm combining Dropbox and Private Box.

  2. John Doe
    April 8, 2019 at 11:28 pm

    Hi. I just received an email from my internet company about someone filing a copyright infringement complaint yesterday. It says it’s about three files on a file sharing format p2p. Today I received a call from someone saying it has a civil complaint summons to serve. I guess it’s about this. I don’t recognize the downloads but it shows that they are less than 1% downloaded. They say they are copyrighted video games. But the names of the files can be interpreted as anything like a guide or just simply a presentation that could be free and legal and not necessarily identifies their file names as a game perse. It’s this winnable in court?

  3. Raz
    June 20, 2018 at 3:25 am

    I'm Canadian and received infringement notices in October 2015. I then got a free VPN from VPNBook and have been infringement trouble-free until today (June 2018). I have just received more infringement notices regardless of my VPN (which is also on a Canadian server). So I have now switched to a European server, although I'm not sure this is enough to protect me. Does anyone know how or why these new infringment notices have come about, regardless of my VPN? My 'methods' online have not changed at all.

    • Tony
      August 28, 2018 at 4:40 am

      There are VPNs and there are VPNs! You say you got a 'free' VPN, and I think that is key. In order to be safe, you need a VPN which does NOT keep logs and which does not provide your info (Eg. your REAL ip address assigned by your ISP) when the dogs from the MAFIAA request it.
      I am currently on the hunt for a VPN myself. I am considering one based in Panama, which is not under the laws of the country I'm in. I also think a paid VPN is the way to go, one which does not keep logs of one's activities, and which strictly keep the privacy of its customers.

  4. Some bunny
    June 17, 2018 at 5:56 pm

    I got an infringement notice from my ISP. After much questioning the members of my household, and research to understand what this is and how it happens, the incident does not seem to have been perpetrated by any of us. The ISP considers me guilty, there's no way to dispute it, and it apparently remains permanently.

  5. Anonymous
    June 1, 2018 at 12:27 am

    Kind of freaking out... Apparently I’m a cave person and haven’t had a computer for 6+ years. I got really hooked on a specific show on Netflix and the newest episodes weren’t on Netflix or on demand so I did a google search and downloaded the 10 episodes I was missing. Is it illegal to download them to watch myself?? I’ve got 6 copyrite infringement notices and I’m so stressed out about it. Should I be concerned? Is there something I’m supposed to do?? Ahhhhhh.

  6. 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.

  7. 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

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

    oh yes, and disable ipv6 too!

  9. 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.

    • low hanging fruit
      December 31, 2017 at 10:05 pm

      *you're

  10. 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...

    • Steven
      February 21, 2018 at 8:26 am

      It's not the downloading of the copyrighted material that is illegal. It is the sharing of said material with others that is illegal. That's why the copyright infringement notices all allege the infringer shared the material - which often may not be the case - and which the issuer of the notice may not be able to prove (but arguing you only downloaded and did not share may well be a losing argument which you do not wish to lose). For the trolls, it is enough it appears you may have shared the material.

  11. 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.

  12. 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!

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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! =)

  16. 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.

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

    Informative post.Very helpful..

  18. 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.