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Dropbox and the DMCA: What it means for your Dropbox mp3 collection

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Dropbox, like many large technology companies that store or host content uploaded by users, has to follow the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA helps copyright owners (such as musicians, film studios, authors, and others) prevent users from sharing copies of songs, movies, books, and other copyrighted data for free on the Internet. Practically speaking, if you try to share an mp3 or other music file, you will likely run into problems.

Dropbox DMCA Dropbox pirated mp3The way that Dropbox follows the DMCA is to prevent its users from sharing links to materials that it determines are copyrighted. So, if you share a link to a Dropbox folder that contains a copy of an old Jackson 5 mp3, any user who clicks on that link may see a message that says something like, “Certain files in this folder can’t be shared due to a takedown request in accordance with the DMCA.” When Ars Technica reported on a 2014 incident involving a copyrighted video file, Dropbox offered this clarification:

Dropbox did confirm to Ars that it checks publicly shared file links against hashes of other files that have been previously subject to successful DMCA requests. “We sometimes receive DMCA notices to remove links on copyright grounds,” the company said in a statement provided to Ars. “When we receive these, we process them according to the law and disable the identified link. We have an automated system that then prevents other users from sharing the identical material using another Dropbox link. This is done by comparing file hashes.”

Dropbox added that this comparison happens when a public link to your file is created and that “we don’t look at the files in your private folders and are committed to keeping your stuff safe.” The company wouldn’t comment publicly on whether the same content-matching algorithm was run on files shared directly with other Dropbox users via the service’s account-to-account sharing functions, but the wording of the statement suggests that this system only applies to publicly shared links.

However, I have not seen cases of Dropbox unilaterally removing copies of copyrighted files from Dropbox accounts. Why not? Because if I place an mp3 file of Jackson 5’s “ABC” in my Dropbox account, Dropbox has no way of knowing whether the song is pirated. If I legitimately purchased the song or made a copy for my own disco-themed workout session in my living room, Dropbox does not have the right to remove it. The company can certainly prevent me from sharing it for free (per the DMCA) but for the time being Dropbox will make no additional assumptions about the legality of such content placed in a Dropbox folder.

Dropbox’s official DMCA policy is listed here.

Dropbox: How to keep shared files if you are not the owner

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A reader of Dropbox In 30 Minutes, 2nd Edition, recently contacted me about a situation involving a shared folder filled with photos. His question: If he is not the owner of the folder, and the owner decides to delete or unshare the folder, will he be able to keep copies of the photos? The following post explains how to keep shared files in Dropbox if you are not the owner of the shared folder in question.

Before I dive into the details, a key concept to understand is who owns the shared folder. Let’s say you belong to a shared folder with a friend. If your friend is the owner of the folder, then you will have secondary permissions. What does this mean? At the very least, you will be able to view the files, or maybe edit them, and upload new files to the folder. But you won’t be able to delete them. You may also be able to invite new people to the folder, as long as the owner has granted you permission to do so (not everyone does this). Later, the owner may also decide to transfer ownership to you, at which point you would gain the power to delete files, invite new people, or make other changes.

If the owner deletes the folder, then you will also lose the files in it. However, if she unshares it she will be given the option to allow you to keep a copy (she will be prompted with a checkbox that says “I want my collaborators to keep a copy of these files.”) This second option is preferable. However, if you are not sure how your friend will handle this later on, my advice is to download the files now so you have a copy. You can then bring it back into Dropbox.

To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Log onto Dropbox.com and go to the folder in question
  2. Select all of the files in it (click the top file once so it is highlighted, then use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl-A on a Windows PC or Command-A on a Mac, or go to Edit>Select All in the browser menu).
  3. Click the download link that appears at the top of the screen (see image below).

The photos will be downloaded to your hard drive as a zipped archive (.zip) which you can then transfer to Dropbox on your hard drive or unpack it and move the files to a new Dropbox folder that you control.

Dropbox shared files download

How to permanently delete a Dropbox file (it’s not as easy as you think)

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One of the most-asked questions about Dropbox relates to deleting files. Many users assume you can simply delete or trash the file from your desktop. It won’t work! In this blog post, I’ll explain how to permanently delete a Dropbox file. If it’s still not clear, a video at the bottom of the post shows exactly what to do.

As I explain in my Dropbox guide, deleting a Dropbox file is kind of like killing a vampire. Just when you think you’ve trashed the file, it pops up alive and kicking in another location! That’s because Dropbox stores multiple copies of the same file, and the only way to kill it for good is to wipe it out from the Dropbox.com website. Several steps are involved, so please be patient while I explain the steps involved:

  1. Go to Dropbox.com, and log in
  2. Find the file that you wnat to delete
  3. Right click over the file’s name
  4. Select Delete. You will be prompted to confirm the deletion.
  5. VAMPIRE WARNING: The file is not dead yet!
  6. Click on the trash can icon at the top of the screen (it says “Show delete files” if you hover over it)
  7. The file you just deleted will reappear in the list, but it will be greyed out
  8. Right-click on it again, and select Permanently Delete.
  9. You will be asked to confirm if you want to permanently delete it. This is your last chance to change your mind, so if you are sure, go ahead and confirm!
  10. VAMPIRE ALERT: If you want to bring it back to life, right-click and select Restore.

That’s it! This method also works for people who want to delete Dropbox folders.

The video version of this post is included below:

Not enough space to sync Dropbox? How to use Selective Sync

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A Canadian reader recently contacted me about a problem. He had subscribed to Dropbox Pro and now had access to 1 terabyte of available storage space. Unfortunately, his hard disks on his Windows PC did not have enough space to sync the entire Dropbox account. How could he set up Dropbox so his hard disk wouldn’t be overwhelmed by photos and other files?

Fortunately, there is a solution. In this post, I’ll explain how to use Dropbox’s Selective Sync feature to limit which folders on your hard drive are synced.

Selective Sync is activated from Dropbox preferences. Follow these steps:

  1. Open Dropbox settings on your Windows 7 or Windows 8 computer (click the Dropbox icon in your system tray, and then the settings icon)
  2. Click Preferences
  3. Click Account
  4. Click the “Change Settings” button next to “Selective Sync” (see screenshot, below).
  5. Use the checkboxes to select the folders you want to sync to your PC. The others won’t be synced.

Here’s what the setting looks like:

Not enough Dropbox storage? Try selective sync

If you’re interested in reading more tips and tricks about Dropbox, check out the second edition of Dropbox In 30 Minutes.

Dropbox’s Carousel app: The 1-minute review

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Dropbox offers an optional mobile app for iOS and Android called Carousel. As I described in the revised and expanded Dropbox In 30 Minutes, 2nd edition, The Dropbox Carousel app is a great way to view and share the photos stored in your Dropbox account, as well as those stored on your phone’s camera roll.

Once installed, Carousel asks permission to access the settings and content on your Dropbox app. After granting it, Carousel will display thumbnails of all of the photos and videos stored in your Dropbox account, not just those in Camera Uploads. It arranges them on a timeline which you can scroll through using a finger.

The first time you open the app and scroll through your collection, it can be quite a surprise to see photos that you shot or transferred to Dropbox months or years ago. The marketing for Carousel promises “every photo and video is safe forever.”

You can easily distribute photos in your Carousel collection to others. Once you find a set of photos that you want to share, tap the share icon. You’ll be able to select certain photos, and then email them to friends with a short message. Recipients have the option of viewing the thumbnails in the email, or downloading them to the Carousel app installed on their own phones.
Here are two views of the Carousel app. Browsing the timeline is displayed on the left, and the sharing process is shown on the right:

Dropbox Carousel app screenshots for Android

Overall, I think Carousel is a great idea, especially for those Dropbox users who use Camera Uploads a lot. However, I think some of the sharing options could be improved. The obvious target: Carousel integration with Facebook. But even having SMS or MMS support would be cool.

How big is my Dropbox video?

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A reader, Arthur, had a question after reading this post about videos being uploaded to Dropbox. He asked, “How can I tell how big is my video, before I upload it to Dropbox?” A related question: “How can I tell how big is a file in Dropbox?” Being able to determine the size of a video (or any other file) is useful not only for managing your Dropbox account (free accounts only hold a limited amount of space) but also for determining how long it will take to upload or download a file from Dropbox.

To answer Arthur’s question: To see how big a video is, there are a couple of methods.

  1. Windows: Open My Computer or the Windows file explorer and RIGHT-CLICK on the title of the video or the icon. Select “Properties”. That should show you the size of the file.
  2. Windows: In the Windows file explorer utility, change the view so it displays the column that contains the file size for each file in the open folder.
  3. Mac OS X: If you are using a Mac, find the file in Finder and right click on it and select “Get Info”.

Note that all of these methods work, regardless of whether the file is stored on your hard drive, an external storage device, a USB drive, or your Dropbox folder on your PC or Mac.

If the video on your hard drive or USB stick is huge, it’s possible to upload it to Dropbox but it may take a long time, depending on the speed of your Internet connection. I have personally uploaded or accessed videos that are more than 100 MB in size. For a file of that size, it will take at least 10 minutes on a fast Xfinity or FiOS connection, and possibly hours if you are using DSL or a slow Wi-Fi service.

It’s easy to share the video once it has been uploaded to Dropbox. For that matter, it’s easy to share any file using Dropbox (as I explained in Chapter 4 of Dropbox in 30 Minutes, 2nd Edition). Simply right-click on the file name again and use “Share Dropbox Link” (see screenshot, below). That link will be copied to your clipboard, and you will be able to paste it into an email, Twitter, Facebook, Word, etc.

How big is my Dropbox video

Dropbox Android app: How to delete a file or folder

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If you use Dropbox on an Android phone or tablet, you may be looking at the minimalist interface and wondering how to delete a file or folder. It’s easy to do, as this short, two-minute video demonstrates:

If you have to delete multiple files within a Dropbox folder, but don’t want to delete the entire folder, the Android app will slow you down. In such cases I recommend you handle deletions on the desktop. The video How To Permanently Delete Multiple Files in Dropbox, explains how.

For more tips on how to use Dropbox for collaboration, backing up files, and making it easier to manage photos, check out the contents for Dropbox In 30 Minutes.

What’s the longest video you can add to Dropbox?

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Tonight a reader of Dropbox In 30 Minutes sent me an email asking about the longest video that can be added to a Dropbox account. It’s a common question. People are used to hitting the 10-minute or 15-minute limit on YouTube, and it’s natural to think that Dropbox has similar caps.

But here’s the thing: There is no time limits on videos. The only limit is the size of the video, which must be less than the amount of free space in your account. So, if you have a free 5 GB Dropbox account, and have .5 GB of photos and Word docs in there, that means you can upload an additional 4.5 GB of other stuff. The other stuff could be a gigantic video file, or a bunch of smaller video files, or anything else whose size is less than 4.5 GB total.

Note also that the bigger the video files are, the longer they will take to sync. For this reason I usually sync videos that are less than 150 MB in size, which might take 20 minutes to sync to Dropbox on my wireless Internet connection at home (Comcast Xfinity).

Once the video is in the Dropbox folder, you can either share the link to the video or share the folder with your friends so they can access the videos and add their own materials if they want. Keep in mind that there are security and privacy considerations around both of these methods of sharing, covered in Chapter 4 of Dropbox In 30 Minutes (available as an ebook and in paperback and PDF formats. You can buy the guide here).

Dropbox Video Length

What is Camera Uploads, and how to manage photos in Dropbox

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If you are new to Dropbox, you may have seen a folder called “Camera Uploads”. What is Camera Uploads? It’s a feature in the Dropbox mobile app that automatically syncs the pictures you take on your smartphone (iPhone, Android, etc.) and automatically uploads them to your Dropbox account. This short blog post and the two videos shows how Camera Uploads works, and how you can manage the storage space and photos in it.

As you can imagine, Camera Uploads takes care of a big problem — syncing photos between your smartphone and PC. It happens wirelessly in the background when the app is turned on, so you don’t even have to think about it.

But Camera Uploads causes a few problems:

  1. The uploaded photos and movies eat up your Dropbox storage space
  2. The photos aren’t organized into albums

The following video and the linked blog post I wrote earlier this year show you how to manage Camera Uploads. The video shows you how to delete photos, either one at a time or in batches. The blog post shows you how to use Dropbox Photos, to organize the pictures in Camera Uploads into albums.

For more information about Dropbox and how to get the most out of the desktop and mobile apps, download the ebook or buy the paperback version of Dropbox In 30 Minutes. For more information about Dropbox, visit Dropbox.com.

Video: Manage the Camera Uploads folder

Blog post: What are Dropbox Photos, and how can they help you organize images?

How to kick out other users from a shared Dropbox folder

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In less than 3 minutes, the following video will demonstrate how to kick out another user from a shared Dropbox folder. “Kick out” may sound mean, but it’s actually the term Dropbox uses!

Why would kicking out another user be necessary? Perhaps the other person no longer needs to collaborate on the files in the folder, or he or she has been fired. Whatever the reason, this video shows how to review and select other users for ejection.

This method of kicking out other people can be used by owners of shared Dropbox folders. If you are merely a member of the shared folder who was invited by the owner, you can’t kick anyone out — but you can leave (explained in this video). The video also describes some special considerations relating to files contributed by the person being kicked out.

The narrator of the video is the author of “Dropbox In 30 Minutes”, a quick guide that not only explains how to set up Dropbox, but also shows how to leverage special features for collaboration and document sharing. See the contents of the guide here, and view purchase options here.

To view the video full-screen, press the rectangular icon at the bottom of the YouTube video player: