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On any site that accepts user contributions, a certain amount of copyrighted material ends up getting posted. Quotes used without full attribution are not uncommon, and reuse of copyrighted images is widespread.

In the context of US copyright law, what are the possible ramifications of either intentionally removing or not removing content that you suspect violates somebody's copyright? I understand that the DMCA provides safe harbor provisions if you remove content when a DMCA takedown is filed, but assuming that the copyright holder hasn't notified you, what could go wrong if you either do or don't remove material that might be infringing?

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In the case that you retrieved a DMCA takedown notice, or alike, unless you signed a contractual agreement establishing that is under your responsibilities, retrieve, verify or comply with DMCA takedown notices, or any other kind of legalese, no, only site owners can be prosecuted.

However, you may be liable if you don't forward these documents to the site owners, or at least inform the other party what are the correct channels for such process. This of course, depends on the laws that apply to your specific country, etc.

This apply also for content you moderate, unless you retrieve a takedown notice, you are not legally obliged to remove any content you suspect doesn't respect the copyright, unless you have signed to verify such cases.

I repeat, you are not supposed to police user submitted content. Just wait for the DMCA notice, then act.

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