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What to Do if Your CC-Licensed Work is Misused

The CC licenses are designed to make sharing simple and place minimal requirements on reusers who want to be able to use creative works. However, sometimes reusers still misuse CC-licensed works, either intentionally or by mistake, and as a licensor, there are several things you can do about it. 

Before you take action:

Before you contact someone about a license violation, double-check to be sure you haven’t made a mistake! 

I’m certain it’s a violation of the license terms. Now what?

CC believes license enforcement should be fair to both licensors and licensees. We have a page on license enforcement, including a draft statement of principles, to guide decisions about actions to take when a license violation occurs.

Start by figuring out in detail what is wrong.

You want to be able to inform the violator clearly about what needs to be fixed. You may wish to take screenshots in case you need them to explain your issue or for future reference. Make a note of the date that you noticed the errors.

Some information to note:

If it could be a good-faith error, send a request.

The best first step is to send a request to the user describing what is wrong, reminding them what the CC licenses require, and asking them to fix the error. Many errors in use or attribution are simply mistakes, and a polite request will prompt the reuser to fix them. 

If it is a type of use that is not permitted, remind them of the terms of the license and ask them to remove or stop using the work. If you are willing to grant permission for their use, either for free or for some other form of consideration (for example, if you will grant special permission to use an NC work for commercial use for a fee, or allow a specific kind of adaptation of an ND work), ask for what you would want in order to permit them to continue this use. It is worth following up on this step if you don’t immediately get a response. 

If your request is successful, this is a good outcome! If your work was licensed under a 4.0 license and the correction was made within 30 days as given in the termination procedure, then the licensee has the right to continue using the work under the terms of the license. If you were using an earlier version of the license, you may wish to explicitly grant permission to use the work under its terms again. 

Whether or not the licensee regains the right to use the work, the use of the work that was out of compliance with the license was a copyright infringement. As the copyright holder, you are still entitled to damages for that infringement, if you choose to seek them. If you were harmed by the noncompliant use, it is reasonable to ask for a fair amount of compensation (for example, what you might have charged to license that use, or the profit someone made from a noncompliant use). Please see CC’s Statement of Principles around License Enforcement for more detail about what Creative Commons thinks is fair in this regard.

If your first request was unsuccessful, if the matter is clearly bad faith, or if it is too time-sensitive to wait, send a takedown notice.

If the work is hosted on a website, send a copyright takedown request to the website operator. (In some jurisdictions, there are specific mechanisms to do this, such as the DMCA in the US.) In most cases, sending this request will cause the site to take down the material you claim as infringing.

It is possible the user will contest the takedown. If they do, we recommend taking a second look at whether the material is infringing before proceeding! Most reusers who bother to contest a takedown sincerely believe that their use is either licensed or falls under an applicable exception or limitation to copyright. 

If a takedown request is inapplicable to your situation, go to the next step. 

If you have not yet gotten what you need, send a legal demand letter.

Your demand letter should lay out your case clearly and professionally: the details of your complaint, what damages you’ve incurred, and what kind of action or compensation you want from the recipient. Explain that the next step is legal action. It is possible to do this yourself, but if you have access to an attorney, we recommend that you consult one so that you understand your options and can make a clear and accurate statement of what you are entitled to and what will happen next.

In many cases the recipient will respond to this request by doing what is requested, to avoid a costly and difficult litigation. If they do not, you should take legal action.

Where necessary, take legal action.

If your issue has not been fully resolved, you may need to bring legal action. You should consult an attorney with experience in copyright law to determine how to proceed with your claim. Going to court is often expensive and difficult, but there may be other options to pursue, depending on which jurisdiction you are in and the size and complexity of your claim. (For example, the recently-created copyright small claims courts in the US, or alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.) This should be able to provide a final resolution to any copyright issue. Again, please see our page on license enforcement for more on the considerations we suggest taking into account in these situations.