The Copyright Office last year announced changes to its system for registering designated agents for receiving take-down notices that are sent by copyright owners when they believe that user-generated content posted on a website is infringing on the copyright owner’s content (see our article here). The new system makes these registrations electronic, and requires all services seeking protection under Section 512 of the Copyright Act (the “safe harbor” for user-generated content) to register in the new system by December 31, 2017. Last week, the Copyright Office announced certain minor changes to the information required of the companies registering their designated agents in this new system (see Federal Register notice here).
The new changes make it easier for smaller companies to register in the new system. Initially, the system had required a user to establish an account with the Copyright Office before registering the designated agent. That account registration, while not public, did require the submission of information including the physical address of a contact person, and a secondary contact person for the company. Recognizing that many small website owners who might register for the sale harbor (e.g. a blogger running his or her own blog) might not have a secondary contact person for their website operations, the Copyright Office made the secondary contact optional. The office also eliminated the need to register a title for the contact person and the physical address for that person. Presumably, that address is no longer necessary as most contacts would be done through email or by phone – data fields that are still required. Why register in this system?
If you host any content on your website that is created by third parties (e.g. pictures, videos, letters to the editor) – anything that could infringe on a copyright of another – you want to register in the system. Section 512 of the Copyright Act gives website hosts a “safe harbor” from copyright lawsuits based on content posted by third parties unrelated to the site owner if, among other requirements, the site owner registers a designated agent to receive “take-down notices” informing it that third-party content that has been posted to its site is infringing on a copyright. If so informed, the site owner needs to follow certain procedures including, if it determines that the content is in fact infringing, pulling down the infringing content. The site owner needs to take other steps to insulate itself from liability, including not encouraging the posting of such content (including making clear in terms of service that such content cannot be posted and taking steps to block repeat infringers from using the site), posting the designated agent’s contact information on its site, and not directly profiting from infringing content.
We have written about Section 512 and the many issues that it can pose many times, including articles here, here and here. But it currently provides great protection to services that follow its requirements, so if you host third-party content, and are not yet registered, you should make sure that you are registered and otherwise comply with the requirements of Section 512 to help minimize the potential for your liability for such content. And even if you have registered in the past, make sure to re-register in the new electronic system by the December 31 deadline.
Update: Post corrected to reflect the correct December 31 deadline for electronic registration.