You should actually read the Terms Of Service Agreement

Someone using the nick “light” popped into the WMR chatroom the other day and asked if he could sue a forum owner for violating his copyright by refusing to remove a post containing his work. After playing a game of 50 questions to ascertain exactly what the issue is and is not, the answer to light’s question is a pretty firm “No”.

Download SEO 101: Copyright Infringment.
Originally aired on Webmaster Radio on 1/10/2008

The Sitch…

Light voluntarily joined a forum and, by doing so, agreed to the Terms of Service of that site. Then he voluntarily wrote a post and put it up on the forum. Now for some reason, that post is causing him some level of grief (for reasons he refused to share), and he wants the post removed from the forum. He contacted the forum owner and requested to have the post deleted and the forum owner declined. Light then drafted his own Cease and Desist letter and emailed it to the forum owner. The forum owner then banned him. So now, Light is planning to sue the forum owner for copyright infringement.

The Analysis…

There is no copyright infringement here. Read the Terms of Service or Terms of Use on most forums or services where users contribute content and you’ll see that the forum owners tend to like to have the right to re-use, edit, re-purpose, etc. things that gets posted to their site. “But I have automatic copyright protection!” Yes, but only until you agree to give up some of your rights by clicking on the “I have read and agree to the terms….” button. This is why it’s important to READ things before agreeing to them or signing anything.

Example Terms Of Service from a Forum

From WebProWorld’s Legal Notice
User Submissions Not Privileged
Any material, information or other communication you transmit or post to this website (“Submissions”) will be considered non-confidential and non proprietary. iEntry shall have no obligations with respect to your Submissions. iEntry and its designees will be free to copy, disclose, distribute, incorporate and otherwise use your Submissions and all data, images, sounds, text and other things embodied therein for any and all commercial or non-commercial purposes. You are prohibited from posting or transmitting to or from this website any unlawful, threatening, libelous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic or other material that would violate any applicable law.

I suspect the homemade Cease & Desist Demand didn’t win Light any points with the forum owner either. In general, you don’t email C&D letters. Additionally, (unless you are a lawyer or you’re using a professionally written boilerplate) you don’t write your own C&D letters. A poorly written C&D may as well be scrawled in cheap wax crayon on the back of a sheet torn from a spiral notebook and signed, “Rabid, Litigation-Happy Nut Who Is Too Cheap To Pay An Attorney”.

Remember, C&Ds generally don’t have any teeth anyway. Unless they look and feel like they came from a large, serious company with the means and desire to actually follow through with threats of legal action, Cease & Desist letters aren’t worth the paper upon which they are written. If they’re sent solely electronically they are worth even less.

Finally, Light’s situation should serve as a reminder to everyone to not post things online that they might regret later. On the Internets, things have a way of not ever going away.