Consider this scenario:

Alice publishes a work A under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

Bob makes a derivative work B from A, and publishes it under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

Charles makes another derivative work C from B, and publishes under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

A and C don't share any content, or resemble each other in any way.

If some third party infringes on the license for A, it's clear that Alice has standing to issue DMCA takedown requests for material that infringes on A. However, it's unclear whether Alice can do the same for B or C.

If some third party infringes on work B or on work C, does Alice have standing to issue a DMCA takedown request against the infringing use in each case?

4 Answers 4


You have the cart before the horse here, tiger. Copyright holders do not enforce licence terms, they sue for breach of copyright.

Copyright works that have been used with permission (which is what a licence is)are not breaches of copyright. Those that have not been used with permission are breaches.

If C's work does not contain any of A's copyright material (either original or derivative work) then A has no grounds to sue for breach - the licence is immaterial.

To issue a DMCA take down notice, A must state:

  • That the notice is filed in good faith
  • That all information in the notice is accurate
  • That under penalty of perjury, the originator is entitled to act on behalf of someone who owns an exclusive right — that is, a copyright — currently being violated.

If A has a good faith belief that C is violating their copyright, they can issue the notice. The fact that C has cited A as a source (even if they actually aren't) is probably enough to support such a belief.

  • What I meant by 'enforce the license' is that there are other actions that A could take, like issuing a DMCA take-down request, which theoretically are only valid if A has grounds to sue for breach of copyright.
    – JoDude
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 3:42
  • Note that I've edited my question to make it clearer that I'm asking specifically about whether A can issue DMCA takedown requests for infringements of B or C.
    – JoDude
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 4:07
  • I'm not sure about the legalities here. In my opinion, you must be 100% sure that you have a copyright on work X, and a good faith belief that it is work X on a website for example, and if you are wrong and it is work Y, that's no legal problem. But if it turns out that you don't actually have copyright on X, even if you had reasons to believe it, that would be a problem.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 18:15
  • @gnasher729 work X includes deviations of work X
    – Dale M
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 22:14
  • I think we were talking about an original A, a work B derived from A (the creator of A has shared copyright of B), and C derived from B, and it is not known whether C has anything in common with A. So it is not know if the creator of A has copyright in C at all.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 22:56

Since DMCA takedown is not a court process, the question of “standing” is not relevant. Anyone “can” submit such a notice, the relevant issues would be (a) will it achieve the desired effect of takedown and (b) will there be legal repercussions for submitting the notice?

The basic logic of the DMCA is that a person submits a notice; the ISP takes the material down expeditiously and notifies the uploader; the uploader may file a counter-notice; if he does, the ISP waits for a couple of weeks and puts the material back up if the complainer does not file suit. It is not guaranteed that an ISP will take material down when they receive notice: there is no provision under the law that the ISP should or may evaluate the believability of the notice. Assuming well-informed and law-abiding practices by the ISP, the notice should be effective in causing the material to be removed, as long as the notice satisfies the formal requirements. (The infringement suit, if there is one, will be dismissed).

There may be repercussions for Alice filing such a notice. Germane parts of the law are 17 USC 512 (c)(3)(A), that the notice must have the following

(i) A physical or electronic signature of a person authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed…

(v) A statement that the complaining party has a [b]good faith belief[/b] that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law

(vi) A statement that the information in the notification is accurate, and under penalty of perjury, that the complaining party is authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.

We would have to see the words of the notice Alice filed, to see what laws might have been violated.

18 USC 1621 criminalizes perjury as follows:

Whoever—(1) having taken an oath before a competent tribunal, officer, or person, in any case in which a law of the United States authorizes an oath to be administered, that he will testify, declare, depose, or certify truly, or that any written testimony, declaration, deposition, or certificate by him subscribed, is true, willfully and contrary to such oath states or subscribes any material matter which he does not believe to be true; or (2) in any declaration, certificate, verification, or statement under penalty of perjury as permitted under section 1746 of title 28, United States Code, willfully subscribes as true any material matter which he does not believe to be true;

is guilty of perjury

The law of perjury is narrowly construed in the US, so to secure a perjury conviction, the government would have to establish that the person did not believe the literal words of the statement. Being mistaken, even if the error is due to egregious ignorance of or disregard for case law, does not support a perjury conviction. Other facts could, however, support the charge if they establish that Alice did not believe her statement (about being authorized to act). If the statement were “I have written authorization from Z, the author of work X, to act on his behalf”, that is likely to result in a perjury conviction. But one might actually (though incorrectly) believe that one had such authorization e.g. due to being the original author, so some statements might not be perjury.

Another consequence is via 17 USC 512 (f) which states:

Any person who knowingly materially misrepresents under this section—

(1) that material or activity is infringing…

shall be liable for any damages, including costs and attorneys’ fees, incurred by the alleged infringer, by any copyright owner or copyright owner’s authorized licensee, or by a service provider, who is injured by such misrepresentation, as the result of the service provider relying upon such misrepresentation in removing or disabling access to the material or activity claimed to be infringing, or in replacing the removed material or ceasing to disable access to it.

On the face of it, there is no penalty for being wrong about your beliefs. An important case (the first case) regarding 512(f) is Online Policy Group v. Diebold, Inc., 337 F. Supp. 2d 1195. In this case, students published internal emails from Diebold (and did so for political reasons): Diebold filed a DMCA takedown notice. The students sued under 512(f), alleging a violation based on the fact that their copying was fair use. An important question is what it means to “knowingly materially misrepresent”. The court found that

A party is liable if it "knowingly" and "materially" misrepresents that copyright infringement has occurred. "Knowingly" means that a party actually knew, should have known if it acted with reasonable care or diligence, or would have had no substantial doubt had it been acting in good faith, that it was making misrepresentations.

The court’s further found that about Diebold “should have known” that they misrepresented the existence of infringement. The court stated that

No reasonable copyright holder could have believed that the portions of the email archive discussing possible technical problems with Diebold's voting machines were protected by copyright

The court does not explain why no reasonable copyright holder could believe that there was infringement, but as outsiders, we can guess it is that Diebold engaged lawyers who advised them that the copying was allowed under fair use. The reasonable care and diligence standard would make mistakes harder to get away with. But 512(f) is not about misrepresentation in general, it is specifically about misrepresentation of infringement. At least so far, the courts have not held that 512(f) extends to any incorrect statement that a careful person would have avoided (such as, whether they are likely to succeed in an infringement suit).


Only if the copyright owner has given Alice approval to act as agent specifically. Copyright is an 'exclusive' right by definition, and only the owner(s), and or agents of, may act as such. "is entitled to act on behalf of," means legally under a binding agreement to act in the stead of, not "just because I know it is so I'm entitled".

Well-crafted agreement is necessary too, as courts have ruled against (for example) literary agents and publishers who've pursued action against infringers on content that the publisher manages but does not have any actual ownership in the copyright. Standard business engagement contract lacked specificity on the issue, so publisher has no grounds to bring action. Case is thrown out. Most recent I think was Norton.

Alice needs to tell B and C and they can then decide what they would like to do. Third party work does not contain any of Alice's copyright material, then Alice has no grounds - the licence is immaterial.

  • Copyright may be exclusive, but a single work may nonetheless be protected by the copyright of multiple authors. This is likely to be the case for a derivative work where the original work is by another author and is still under copyright protection.
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 19:55

You can issue a DMCA takedown notice if you hold a copyright (or are authorized by the copyright holder) to a work and have a good faith belief that the work you are seeking to take down is infringing that copyright.

In your hypothetical, Alice only holds copyright to A. So the question is whether Alice would have a good faith belief that this party was infringing her copyright to A. If so, she can send a DMCA takedown notice. If not, she can't.

Since the assumption is that the use of C infringes its license and the two licenses are the same, there is no defense that the alleged infringer has a license. So it just comes down to whether the use violates the copyright in A.

The key test here is whether the work that they are copying or distributing contains sufficient protectable expression from A that a license from Alice would be required to copy or distribute it.

Your hypothetical says "A and C don't share any content, or resemble each other in any way." In that case, Alice couldn't form a good faith belief that the work she wants to takedown contains sufficient protectable expression that she holds copyright to, since the work does not resemble hers in any way.

Therefore, no.

One possible exception is if Alice somehow was mislead about the contents of the work. She could, I suppose, in good faith wind up believing that the works are similar even though they aren't. But she must somehow come to the good faith belief that the work contains sufficient protectable expression she holds copyright to, even though it doesn't.

Of course, if she does file a DMCA takedown notice, the alleged infringer could counter-notice that Alice does not hold copyright to sufficient protectable expression in the allegedly infringing work. Alice would then no longer have a good faith belief that her cppyright was violated and the work would be restrored.

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