Digital Millennium Copyright Act

The Copyright Office’s new system for registering designated agents for the service of take-down notices when it is believed that user-generated content infringes on intellectual property rights has now gone live. The Copyright Office issued a reminder, here, that all new registrations of agents for the service of these take-down notices must now be submitted in this new electronic system. We wrote more here about the new system and the new requirements for registration, including the requirement that all who are already registered on the old paper forms must re-register in the new system by December 31, 2017. This is important for all media companies who allow third-party users to post content on their sites – whether that content is written articles, photos, videos, music or any other material that could infringe on anyone’s rights under the Copyright Act. Registration is a pre-requisite of getting “safe-harbor” protection for companies who host such third-party content under Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. We discussed this issue in my seminar yesterday on legal issues for broadcasters in digital and social media, the slides from which will be posted shortly.

On Section 512, the safe harbor for those who host user-generated content, the Copyright Office last month issued a Request for Additional Comments in its study of the safe harbor. The safe harbor provides that, if an Internet service provider follows certain rules including the registration of an agent for take-down notices, and some unrelated party uses the service and posts or transmits unauthorized copyrighted material, the service has no liability. Exactly what requirements the service needs to observe depends on the type of the service. ISPs, who provide a mere conduit for material transmitted by others have one set of rules, while companies (including most media companies) that allow content to be posted on their sites to be viewed by the public, have another set of rules that place more obligations on these companies, including avoiding any steps to encourage the posting of infringing content, taking down infringing content of which they have actual notice or for which they have been received an uncontested take-down notice, and otherwise not affirmatively profiting from such infringing content. As part of its role of advising Congress on copyright issues, the Copyright Office began a study of the Section 512 exemption a year ago, which we wrote about here. Congress has also held hearings on the matter, and may well try to tackle it in its reform of the Copyright Act that is supposed to be in the works after the new Congress convenes in 2017. Last month’s request for additional comments suggests just how difficult that the reform of this section will be.
Continue Reading Copyright Office New Electronic Registration for Designated Agents for Take Down Notices Goes Live – and The Office Asks for More Comments on Assessing The Section 512 Safe Harbor for User-Generated Content

Both the popular and media trade press has been full of reports in the last few weeks about musicians and other artists petitioning the Copyright Office to hold YouTube and other online services liable for infringement when the artists’ copyrighted material appears on the service (see, e.g. the articles here and here). The complaints allege that these services are slow to pull infringing content and, even when that content is pulled from a website, it reappears soon thereafter, being re-posted to those services once again. While the news reports all cite the filings of various artists or artist groups, or copyright holders like the record labels, they don’t usually note the context in which these comments were filed – a review by the Copyright Office of Section 512 of the Copyright Act which protects internet service providers from copyright liability for the actions taken by users of their services (see the Notice of Inquiry launching the review here). All of these “petitions” mentioned in the press were just comments filed in the Copyright Office proceeding, where comments were due the week before last. The Copyright Office will also be holding two roundtable discussions of the issues raised by this proceeding next month, one in California and one in New York City (see the notice announcing these roundtables here). What is at issue in this inquiry?

Section 512 was adopted to protect differing types of internet service providers from copyright liability for material that uses their services. Section 512(a) protects ISPs from liability for material that passes through their systems. That section does not seem to be particularly controversial, as no one seems to question the insulation from liability of the provider of the “pipes” through which content passes – essentially a common carrier-like function of just providing the infrastructure through which messages are conveyed. Sheltered from liability by Section 512(b) are providers of systems caching – temporary storage of material sent by third-parties on a computer system maintained by a service provider, where the provider essentially provides cloud storage to third-parties using some automated system where the provider never reviews the content. That section also does not seem particularly controversial. Where the issues really seem to arise is in the safe harbor provided in Section 512(c) which is titled “Information residing on systems or networks at the direction of users” – what is commonly called “user-generated content.”
Continue Reading Copyright Office Reviews Section 512 Safe Harbor for Online User-Generated Content – The Differing Perceptions of Musicians and Other Copyright Holders and Online Service Providers on the Notice and Take-Down Process

Do you allow the posting of content created by third parties on your website (e.g. videos, audio files, or even written comments)?  Do you run any on-line service where you collect information provided by third parties (whether that be a dating service, auction site or other classified service)?  If you do, you probably know that you are safe from copyright claims for infringing content that is posted by those who are not your employees or agents if you follow certain steps.  We have written about these steps to give you the "safe harbor" from copyright liability for "user-generated content" before.  The steps include requirements that you not encourage or profit from the infringing content, that you have terms of use for your service that forbid users from posting infringing content, and that you take down infringing content when you receive notice from copyright holders that it has been uploaded to your site or service by a third party.  To take advantage of this safe harbor from liability, services are required to register with the Copyright Office the name of someone in their company who can be served with "take-down notices" from copyright owners.  The process of registration is now proposed to be changed in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking just issued by the Copyright Office.  Comments on this notice can be filed through November 28. Replies are due by December 27.

The safe harbor was created by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, adopted in 1998.  Since that time, the registration of agents to receive take-down notices has been governed by interim rules.  Services register by sending a paper form and a filing fee to the Copyright Office, and that information is manually entered by the Copyright Office into a list that is available on the Copyright Office website.  From experience, the time from the filing of such a registration to its appearance on the Copyright Office’s website can take several weeks or more.  The Copyright Office, in its Notice, states that it has done some informal checks on the information in its database of registered agents, and found that the list contains duplicate registrations, registrations for companies or sites that are no longer in operation (services are supposed to tell the Office when they stop their operations), and many outdated addresses (services are supposed to update their agents as employees change, but apparently they sometimes forget).  The NPRM proposes to move to an electronic registration system, which will automatically request a verification of the registered information on a regular basis.  In making this proposal, the Copyright Office asks for public comment on a number of issues.


Continue Reading Claiming Safe Harbor Protection for User Generated Content – Copyright Office Proposes Changes to Registration of Agent for Service of Take Down Notices

Last week, the Department of Commerce’s Internet Policy Task Force asked for comments on the relationship between the protection of copyrighted content on the Internet and the effect of such protections on technology innovation and the expectations of consumers.  The purpose of the inquiry is to develop a report to be circulated among the various government departments that have power over the enforcement of copyrights and the development of rules and regulations that deal with copyrighted materials – to essentially develop government policy in this area.  While the request for comments dwell on the concerns about copyright infringement that are raised by many Internet applications, the proceeding will obviously be controversial among media companies.  Many of these companies are concerned about the unauthorized use of their content on various websites, while other media companies (or divisions of the same media companies who are concerned about the unauthorized use of content) are concerned about too tight restrictions on the use of copyrighted content and how that will impact various websites, especially those that feature user-generated content.

As we have written before, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act allows Internet companies to allow users to post material on their websites, without fear of liability, if they take certain precautions – including adopting terms of use warning users that they need to observe the intellectual property rights of others, not otherwise encouraging infringing uses, registering with the Copyright Office to provide a contact person at the website operator that a copyright owner can contact if they believe that their content is being used improperly, and taking steps to take down improper content if the website operator is notified of the infringing use.    This Commerce Department’s notice asks if this "safe harbor" provision has served the public interest, or if adjustments to this regime should be made.  Obviously, many websites that have grown businesses based on user generated content (e.g. many of the social networking and video-sharing sites) and will be very concerned with a proposal to alter their safe harbor and require them to take on a greater burden of reviewing content for potential copyright violations, while many content owners, who have complained about the inability to monitor all of these sites, may be looking for these reforms.   Obviously, there will be conflicting views on these proposals.


Continue Reading Department of Commerce Seeks Comments on The Relationship of Protecting Copyrighted Content and Innovation in the Internet Economy

On October 6, 2009, David Oxenford participated in a panel called "Post-Millennium Analysis: The DMCA in the 21st Century" at the Future of Music Coalition’s Policy Summit in Washington, DC.  Other panelists included David Carson, General Counsel of the US Copyright Office, and Mitch Glazer, Executive Vice President, Government and Industry Relations for the RIAA.  The

The question of when a digital music service is “interactive” and therefore requires direct negotiations with a copyright holder in order to secure permission to use a sound recording is a difficult one that has been debated since the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was adopted in 1998. In a decision of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals released today, upholding a jury decision in 2007, the Court concluded that Yahoo’s Launchcast service (now operated by CBS) is not so “interactive” as to take it outside of the statutory royalty despite the fact that the service does customize its music offerings to the tastes of individual listeners. To reach its decision, the Court went through an extensive analysis of both the history of the sound recording copyright and of the details of the criteria used by Launchcast to select music for a stream sent to a specific user. By determining that the service is not interactive, the service need only pay the SoundExchange statutory royalty to secure permission to use all legally recorded and publicly released music.  Had the service been found to be interactive within the meaning of the statute, the service would have to negotiate with each sound recording copyright holder for each and every song that it wanted to use on its service to get specific rights to use each song – potentially resulting in hundreds of negotiations and undoubtedly higher fees than those paid under the statutory license.

The issue in the case turned on an analysis of the DMCA’s definition of an interactive service.  The statute defines an interactive service as one where a user can select a specific song or “receive a transmission of a program specially created for the recipient.” It is clear that Launchcast did not allow a user to request and hear a specific song.  But, by specifying a genre of music, and by specifying favorite artists and songs and rating other songs played by the service, a listener could influence the music that was provided to it.  Was this ability to influence the music sufficient to make it an “interactive service” and thus take it out of the coverage of the statutory royalty?


Continue Reading Court of Appeals Determines that Launchcast is Not an Interactive Service – Thus Not Needing Direct Licenses From the Record Labels

The Copyright Royalty Board today published a notice in the Federal Register announcing the start of its next proceeding to set the royalties to be paid by Internet radio operators for the performance rights to use "sound recordings" (a particular recording of a song as performed by a particular performer) pursuant to the statutory royalty.  As we’ve written extensively on this blog, the statutory royalty allows an Internet radio station to use any publicly released recording of a song without the permission of the copyright owner (usually the record company) or the artist who is recorded, as long as the station’s owner pays the royalty – currently collected by SoundExchange.  In 2007, the Copyright Royalty Board set the royalties for 2006-2010, a decision which prompted much controversy and is still under appeal.  In the Notice released today, the CRB set February 4 as the deadline for filing a Petition to Participate in the proceeding to set the royalties for the next 5 year period.

The 2006-2010 royalties are currently the subject of negotiations as the parties to the last proceeding attempt to come to a voluntary settlement to set royalties that are different than those established by the CRB decision.  The Webcasting Settlement Act (which we summarized here) gives webcasters until February 15 to reach an agreement as to rates that would become an alternative to the rates that the CRB established.  The Act also permits parties to reach deals that are available not only for the 2006-2010 period, but also allows the deals to cover the period from 2011-2016.  Thus, theoretically, webcasters could all reach agreements with SoundExchange to establish rates that cover the next royalty period, obviating the need for the proceeding of which the CRB just gave notice.  But, as is so often the case, those settlements may not be reached (if they are) until the last minute – so parties may need to file their Petitions to Participate before they know whether a settlement has been achieved.


Continue Reading Here We Go Again – Copyright Royalty Board Announces Date for Filing to Particpate in Proceeding to Set Webcasting Royalties for 2011-2015

Website operators who allow the posting of user-generated content on their sites enjoy broad immunity from legal liability.  This includes immunity from copyright violations if the site owner registers with the Copyright Office, does not encourage the copyright violations and takes down infringing content upon receiving notice from a copyright owner (see our post here for more information).  There is also broad immunity from liability for other legal violations that may occur within user-generated content.  In a recent case, involving the website Roommates.com, the US Court of Appeals determined that the immunity is broad, but not unlimited if the site is set up so as to elicit the improper conduct.  A memo from attorneys in various Davis Wright Tremaine offices, which can be found here, provides details of the Roommates.com case and its implications.

In the case, suit was filed against the company, alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act, as the site had pull-down menus which allowed users to identify their sex, sexual orientation, and whether or not they had children.  Including any of this information in a housing advertisement can lead to liability under the law.  The Court found that, if this information had been volunteered by users acting on their own, the site owner would have no liability.  But because the site had the drop-down menus that prompted the answers that were prohibited under the law, liability was found.


Continue Reading Court Affirms Website Owner’s Insulation from Liability for User-Generated Content – If the Website Does Not Contribute to the Liability

Website operators planning to allow visitors to post their own "user generated content" can, for the most part, take solace that they will not be held liable for third-party posts if they meet certain criteria.  The Communications Decency Act provides protection against liability for torts (including libel, slander and other forms of defamation) for website operators for third-party content posted on their site.  The Digital Millennium Copyright Act provides protection against copyright infringement claims for the user-generated content, if the site owner observes certain "safe harbor" provisions set out by the law.  The requirements for protection under these statutes, and other cautions for website operators, are set out in detail in our firm’s First Amendment Law Letter, which can be found here.

 As detailed in the Law Letter, the Communications Decency Act has been very broadly applied to protect the operator of a website from liability for the content of the postings of third parties.  Only recently have courts begun to chip away at those protections, finding liability in cases where it appeared that the website operator in effect asked for the offending content – as in a case where the owner of a roommate-finder site gave users a questionnaire that specifically prompted them to indicate a racial preference for a roommate – something which offends the Fair Housing Act.  However, as set forth in the Law Letter, absent such a specific prompt for offending information, the protections afforded by this statute still appear quite broad.


Continue Reading Avoiding Liability for Websites that Post User Generated Content