Not sure if this is the right place to ask, but it seemed like one of the better options.

Example here. Say, I have an online library where users can submit e-books and PDFs they created. All fine and dandy, until someone comes around and starts uploading books that are not their own. Sure, we have a moderation team in place that regularly checks new additions, but some may slip past the radar, especially when dealing with fairly unknown authors.

The author of the (illegally) uploaded books finds the site, browses it for a bit, and to his shock finds that his books are available there for free. Copyright infringement! They sue me for hosting the library website, and I get in deep trouble because some user did something he wasn't allowed to.

How can I avoid getting in trouble over this?

Will I be safe is I state in the Terms of Use that it is not allowed to upload copyright infringing material, and that all users are responsible for what they upload? Or does the "web admin is responsible for his sites and their content" clause negate all others?


UPDATE: Also asked a lawyer online. They gave an answer pretty close to what the people on here said. See this link.

  • The niggly thought in the back of my mind is how do you prosecute an end user who has used a disposable email address / fake ID and done a runner? To what degree are you authenticating users who post content?
    – MrWhite
    Commented Aug 3, 2012 at 9:29
  • Account can only be created when a user is invited. An email address is required for registration. Are you suggesting we log IPs?
    – Fang
    Commented Aug 3, 2012 at 11:33
  • My only thought is... how can a user be liable when you don't actually know who that user is. Inviting users certainly minimises the risk. Logging IPs helps to track a user, but could faked with proxies etc. YouTube does state that as a user "you could get sued!", but presumably this is only after legal action has been taken against YouTube themselves? I think you can only minimise the chances of legal action, not eliminate it. And like @ionFish says, be swift to respond when something does happen.
    – MrWhite
    Commented Aug 3, 2012 at 12:46

2 Answers 2


A similar issue arose a few years back with someone I worked with, and basically came out as this:

"As long as the website owner/host makes a significant effort to remove copyrighted content in a reasonable time frame, and originally is unaware of the content, they shall not be held liable for the user-submitted content."

You will of course have to find a decent lawyer to help prove that you make reasonable efforts to prevent this sort of thing. I do think, though, that it wasn't the best decision to allow anyone to upload files that could potentially be not owned by the uploader.

It also depends on what country your servers are located, example here: http://germanitlaw.com/?p=683

Another option is to personally sue the person who posted the content. But please don't take any of this for direct legal advice, it's only based off of a prior incident, not quoted from any lawyer.

  • Good point ionFish, some locations have very different copyright laws. So it depends where the server is and where your company is registered in. Take the whole thepiratebay.se fiasco for example. Commented Aug 3, 2012 at 0:44
  • The "significant effort", does it have to be made after notifications of the illegal content arise, or do I actively have to search through submissions as the site grows?
    – Fang
    Commented Aug 3, 2012 at 9:03
  • @Fang - I would advise being proactive, since these are not encrypted files retrieved via a password, then looking through them manually is a good idea. Strongly advise allowing people to view only the books they upload. (Much like how the file sharing sites are doing it now). That ensures that only the user is responsible.
    – ionFish
    Commented Aug 3, 2012 at 12:32

This first thing I thought of was YouTube. How do they not get into trouble over that very same thing; people uploading stuff they have no right to distribute.

They use cleverly created EULA and terms of service and they provide authors and copyright holders the ability to flag content for removal. I would start there. I would analyze how youtube does it and copy that model since it seems to work for them. You can use other companies more like yours and see how they do it. What do they put in their policy docs? What tactfully placed words do they use on their content upload forms? What links and words do they have in their footers? Study those and you'll get your answer.

In the end though, always consult with a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property rights.

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