Lilian Min
Updated Feb 19, 2015 @ 5:00 pm

If you’ve been on Tumblr in the past week, chances are you’ve recently seen a slew of posts about the website shutting down entire blogs with no notice. The reason behind this crackdown: a supposed renewed interest by Tumblr staff in tackling the removal of direct upload copyrighted music. This isn’t true, but the recent panic over blog removals brings up some long-running fears of Tumblr users.

While Tumblr has always been a haven for creatives looking to share their original work, it’s also a hive of rampant copyright violation, and to pretend otherwise is to deny one of the largest functions of the site: as a multimedia curation space. Instead of painstakingly tearing out magazine pages or burning mix CDs, you can mix and match influences all in one place, using content you and others have uploaded onto the site. Is a lot of that content copyrighted? Yes. Does that make the actions of users uploading their favorite songs to share illegal? Yes. Does that make Tumblr’s recent actions totally in the right? Debatable.

The official Tumblr guidelines state that if you receive three Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) violations in 18 months, you’ve racked up three strikes and will be deleted off the site. These DMCA violations can only be filed by the copyright holders themselves, and Tumblr’s official stance is that they don’t actively patrol tags for copyrighted content. But that’s no solace to deleted users who lose years of content and thousands of followers over posts made years ago.

So, what’s a Tumblr user to do? While the “easiest” way to keep your blog is to only post original content and share from creators directly, here’s a field guide to protecting your Tumblr as is from whatever copyright crackdowns come in the future.

Scrub your blog of original audio files.

While a recent Tumblr update has made it nearly impossible to upload any copyrighted music files, even if you bought them, any past uploads can still be used held against you. The tricky thing is that the original music label doesn’t just apply to full songs: samples longer than five seconds and music you might not think of as copyrighted (e.g. TV theme songs) also apply.

Need help finding all of your original audio posts? Tumblr user tetraghost has your back: they built this website, which tracks down all of your non-Soundcloud, non-Spotify audio posts so you can delete them.

Back up your blog.

The current wave of blog removals seems to be coming from a single source (a music rights organization named IFPI), but on the not-that-off chance other organizations come after Tumblr users, you can back up your entire Tumblr on websites like Soup, which also offers a Tumblr-like blogging experience.

Remember, images are also subject to DMCA complaints.

Even if your Tumblr is free of any music posts, there’s not a chance that you haven’t shared or posted TV and film stills and edits, or other similarly copyrighted images. While the DMCA guidelines are there to protect individual artists, corporations and studios can also take advantage of those rules. DMCA complaints against images are relatively rare compared to those against music, but they’re all held against you equally.

Keep in mind: the DMCA complaints only have to arrive in an 18 month period, even if the posts they’re about are spread apart.

Think you’re in the clear because you haven’t posted any original music in a while? Nope — copyright holders can file DMCA complaints against any content you’ve posted, ever. What that means is that as soon as your first complaint comes in, your chance of being shut down goes up dramatically; in this case, the frequency in which you post copyrighted content doesn’t matter at all, no matter if you’ve posted three things in a year or post something every day.

Appeal wrongful DMCA claims.

While most DMCA claims will, let’s face it, be valid, on the off chance that you have a legitimate counter-claim, there’s a system in place for appeals. The steps are buried in the Terms of Service (that long block of text you didn’t read before you signed up), but here they are:

Tumblr fans are passionate people, and while that’s what makes the internal community great, it’s also easy to spread misinformation within the site. As for the issue at hand, users are posting copyrighted content not to purposefully steal from creators — they want to share what they love, and see other people doing the same with no consequences until now. And though Tumblr is taking steps to prevent copyrighted content from going up in the first place, for copyright holders it’s too little too late, while users are startled and annoyed by the seemingly sudden changes. Copyright laws desperately need a digital world update, but until that’s changed at a legislative level, it’s on individual users to protect themselves.

(Image via Shutterstock.)