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Troubleshooting Guide: What to Do if Your Product Gets Pirated

Despite best efforts, piracy remains an unfortunate threat when selling digital goods online. If your product does get pirated, responding swiftly and decisively is crucial for minimizing damages.

This comprehensive troubleshooting guide will walk through recommended steps to take if your digital product like an online course, ebook, software, photos, music or other files become illegally distributed without your permission.

Follow this damage control game plan to assert your rights, contain viral spread, and deter future theft. With the right response, many creators fully recover from piracy incidents.

Preliminary Actions If Pirated

Upon first discovering piracy, immediately:

  • Search for copies using site: search on Google along with product names to uncover the scale of infringement. Look across open web, social media, torrent sites etc.
  • Purchase Google Alerts for product name variations to track new uploads real-time. Ongoing alerts help monitor containment efforts.
  • Download and safely archive pirated copies with screenshots and URLs documenting infringement thoroughly in case needed for future legal actions.
  • Assess if any unique watermarks, logos or identifiers are present within illegal copies that prove the assets originated from your account or private development platforms.
  • Review terms and policies of platforms where copies were located to understand takedown protocols.
  • Document all pertinent details like discovery dates, platforms found on and potential origins if known while information is fresh.

Acting quickly upon initial discovery limits viral spread and preserves key evidence before it can be permanently deleted or hidden.

File DMCA Takedown Notices

The fastest initial remedy is requesting removals through official takedown processes:

What is the DMCA?

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act provides creators legal means to request removal of pirated materials through takedown notices.

How Do DMCA Takedowns Work?

You simply submit notices to sites documenting infringement details. Sites must rapidly comply or risk liability for continuing to host revealed illegal copies.

When Are DMCA Takedowns Effective?

DMCA takedowns work well for removing illegally shared copies from compliant legitimate mainstream user generated and social media platforms. They rarely work on actual pirate sites.

What Needs Included?

Effective notices must include your contact details, identification of works stolen, infringing URL links, declaration of authority and signature. Templates are available online.

Submit Notices Everywhere

After customizing a standard DMCA takedown notice template, submit to all mainstream sites and social platforms hosting your pirated works.

Follow each site’s specific notice procedures. Doing this mitigates damage by eliminating the most visible public copies.

Harden Security and Monitoring

Strengthen defenses against further theft:

  • Audit where pirated files originated from. Assess if internal systems were compromised through hacking and urgently patch vulnerabilities.
  • Increase protection like watermarking, tighter DRM and multi-layered encryption to protect new product versions if older ones were cracked.
  • Amend distribution practices that may have enabled theft. For consultable products, carefully screen sharing eligibility. Report anomalies.
  • For collaborators and insiders, implement least privilege access, extensive monitoring, watermarking, rights revocation workflows and legal agreements allowing lawsuits in cases of theft.
  • Establish Google Alerts and search engine notifications tracking product name keyword use across the web to receive immediate piracy detection warnings before infringements proliferate.

Proactively improving protections deters future recurrences. Make stealing as difficult as possible going forward.

Claim Monetization of Stolen Content

You can assign your content’s copyright ownership to Google through their Support tool which will then allow you to monetize pirated YouTube uploads through ad revenue.

Google Content ID scans videos and audio against submitted copyright examples, identifies matches, then gives you the option to either block infringing material or claim attribution and corresponding ad revenue. This cuts out pirates financially.

Claiming attribution monetization keeps videos online but rightly rewards creators, disincentivizing thieves reaping unfair ad payouts.

Report Criminal Activity to Authorities

In cases of confirmed major financial losses from provable theft, you may have grounds for legal actions through law enforcement:

  • File a police report about the theft with pertinent evidence like screenshots, URLS, detailed documentation and any clues on perpetrator identities. Police can potentially subpoena piracy site owners, obtain IPs etc to build legal cases.
  • Contact the FBI’s Cyber Division which investigates digital piracy, particularly for large criminal operations. They work with international agencies to prosecute offenders.
  • Contact Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) which combats piracy rings and counterfeiters. They have R&D labs aiding investigations and prosecutors assisting with cases.
  • Report the matter to the U.S. Trade Representative who monitors global piracy issues and may provide guidance or file complaints against overseas haven countries on your behalf.

Law enforcement prosecution is rare but remains an option in dire cases when significant commercial harm is purposefully inflicted.

Financially Deter Pirates

Beyond just revoking access, undermine the financial incentives driving theft:

Disable Monetization

File complaints via AdSense’s counterfeit complaint form against any sites running Google Ads along with stolen content. Taken together with DMCAs, this eliminates their revenue streams.

Suspend Affiliate Accounts

If you run an affiliate program, proactively block affiliate spammers using stolen materials in their promotions through blacklists blocking payouts and banning their accounts.

Place Bounties

Offer financial bounties within insider communities for verified information like names, contact details and evidence identifying perpetrators and their employers sponsoring piracy financially.

Issue Invoice Demands

Send hefty retroactive licensing invoices to commercial sites benefitting through usage of stolen works. Threaten collections or legal escalation if unpaid as deterrence.

Removing the ability to profit from piracy eliminates incentives for most opportunistic infringers. Combined with revoking access, this disruption strategy hampers theft significantly.

Seek Legal Representation

For systematic large-scale piracy causing substantial damages, civil lawsuits represent an assertive avenue:

Document Losses

Quantify revenue and opportunity cost losses directly resulting from provable pirated distribution of your works. Courts require evidence of concrete commercial harm.

Send Cease and Desists

Have an attorney draft and send formal Cease & Desist letters to infringing sites and commercial entities benefiting from piracy demanding immediate takedown explaining consequences of noncompliance.

Sue For Damages

Work with an intellectual property attorney to bring lawsuits against sites and even companies sponsoring piracy. Litigation allows pursuing compensation for losses plus punitive damages.

File Criminal Charges

In exceedingly rare egregious cases like trade secret theft, work with lawyers and law enforcement to bring formal criminal charges against perpetrators. This empowers police to arrest offenders.

Civil legal action provides recourse against brazen commercial pirates. But high legal costs mean weighing benefits vs expenses.

Learn From The Experience

Leverage challenges to strengthen protections long-term:

  • Study how pirates accessed and extracted content originally. Audit systems for flaws allowing theft like insufficient access controls or permissions.
  • Work with security firms to implement more robust DRM protections and rights management controls preventing ripping, saving, sharing etc.
  • Develop stronger identity and payment verification workflows preventing anonymous bulk purchases enabling resellers.
  • Create stewardship plans allowing revoking access or deleting copies if relationships with resellers, partners or insiders go sideways in future.
  • Increase monitoring capabilities tracking file open attempts, location access, distribution analytics and permission anomalies pointing to risky behavior.
  • Amend contracts and employment policies instituting financial liabilities for provable theft or unauthorized sharing.

The most effective anti-piracy protection is learning from incidents to permanently improve defenses. Let challenges make your protections bulletproof.

Don’t Obsess Over Eliminating Piracy Completely

Despite best efforts, some piracy will always remain out of your control. But its impacts can be managed:

Piracy Isn’t Lost Sales

Studies show most pirates wouldn’t have paid anyways. So their theft isn’t actually directly costing you many “lost sales”.

Obscurity Deters Mass Piracy

Successful niche products with limited mainstream visibility rarely suffer widespread piracy. Obscurity offers protection.

Piracy Can Increase Visibility

Some brands strategically tolerate limited piracy to benefit from increased visibility, network effects and conversion of early adopters initially discovering products through piracy.

Leverage New Defenses

Emerging blockchain-based verification and tracking technologies will increasingly allow tracing pirated content origination and programmatically disabling or deleting illegal copies.

The most successful creators focus energy on serving genuine customers through innovation vs playing an impossible whack-a-mole chase against piracy. Maintain perspective.

Conclusion

Reacting decisively when piracy does occur can significantly limit damages and deter future theft. Assert your rights but avoid overreacting.

Leverage built-in processes like DMCA takedowns to efficiently eliminate infringing copies on compliant platforms. Disable financial incentives around theft. Pursue legal action only as a last resort given high costs.

With enforcement, security improvements, and monitoring against future incidents, most creators fully recover after piracy incidents and avoid major long-term effects.

Stay focused on your community and mission. With the right response plan, piracy remains an manageable, if unavoidable, aspect of digital commerce.

By Dani Davis

Dani Davis is the pen name of the writer of this blog with more 15 years of constant experience in Content marketing and informatics product, e-commerce niche.

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