When the President issues an Executive Order asking for examination of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which permitted the growth of so many Internet companies, broadcasters and other media companies ask what effect the action may have on their operations.  On an initial reading, the impact of the order is very uncertain, as much of it simply calls on other government agencies to review the actions of online platforms.  But, given its focus on “online platforms” subject to the immunity from liability afforded by Section 230, and given the broad reach of Section 230 protections as interpreted by the Courts to cover any website or web platform that hosts content produced by others, the ultimate implications of any change in policy affecting these protections could be profound.  A change in policy could affect not only the huge online platforms that it appears to target, but even media companies that allow public comments on their stories, contests that call for the posting of content developed by third parties to be judged for purposes of awarding prizes, or the sites of content aggregators who post content developed by others (e.g. podcast hosting platforms).

Today, we will look at what Section 230 is, and the practical implications of the loss of its protections would have for online services.  The implications include the potential for even greater censorship by these platforms of what is being posted online – seemingly the opposite of the intent of the Executive Order triggered by the perceived limitations imposed on tweets of the President and on the social media posts of other conservative commentators.   In a later post, we’ll look at some of the other provisions of the Executive Order, and the actions that it is asks other government agencies (including the FCC and the FTC) to take. 
Continue Reading The President’s Executive Order on Online Media – What Does Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act Provide?

While the end of the year is just about upon us, that does not mean that broadcasters can ignore the regulatory world and celebrate the holidays all through December. In fact, this will be a busy regulatory month, as witnessed by the list of issues that we wrote about yesterday to be considered at the FCC meeting on December 14. But, in addition to those issues, there are plenty of other deadlines to keep any broadcaster busy.

December 1 is the due date for all sorts of EEO obligations. By that date, Commercial and Noncommercial Full-Power and Class A Television Stations and AM and FM Radio Stations in Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Vermont that are part of an Employment Unit with 5 or more full-time employees need to place their Annual EEO Public File Reports into the public file (their online public file for TV stations and large-market radio and for those other radio stations that have already converted to the online public file). In addition, EEO Mid-Term Reports on FCC Form 397 are due to be filed at the FCC on December 1 by Radio Station Employment Units with 11 or more full-time employees in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont; and Television Employment Units with five or more full-time employees in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota.  We wrote more about the Mid-Term EEO Report here.
Continue Reading December Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – EEO, TV and Translator Filing Windows, Ancillary Revenue Reports, Main Studio Rule Effective Date, Copyright Office Take-Down Notice Registration and More

The Copyright Office yesterday issued a reminder, here, that their electronic system for “designated agents” of Internet service providers – those who are to receive notice of any claimed infringing content posted on a service provider’s site – is active and all services must register in that system by December 31 for

The CLASSICS (Compensating Legacy Artists for their Songs, Service and Important Contributions to Society) Act was introduced in Congress last week to try to clear up some of the ongoing disputes over the public performance rights of pre-1972 sound recordings. Through litigation, certain copyright holders (including, most notably, Flo and Eddie of the 1960’s band The Turtles) have been seeking compensation from digital and analog music services for the public performance of pre-1972 sound recordings. These sound recordings are not covered by Federal law. As the obligation to pay SoundExchange only applies to recordings covered by Federal law, some digital services were not paying for the performance of these songs. The artists that have brought suit have contended that state laws did create an obligation to pay for the public performance of these recordings, even though there were no specific statutory provisions establishing those rights. Thus far, New York, Florida, Georgia and Illinois have found there to be no right of compensation under state laws (though some of these cases are on appeal). By contrast, California found that there was a right for compensation, though that case, too, is on appeal.

The CLASSICS Act looks to resolve these issues by pre-empting state lawsuits and establishing that services cannot play these recordings without either getting a direct license from the copyright holder to do so, or by paying SoundExchange royalties under the statutory license at the fees set by the Copyright Royalty Board. If a digital music service pays SoundExchange royalties and obeys the rules that apply to such royalties, it is not infringing on the rights of the copyright holder. It can also directly license these rights, but must pay half the license fee to SoundExchange to be distributed to the artists who performed on the recording (in the same manner that half the fees paid under the statutory license are distributed to the artists).
Continue Reading CLASSICS Act Introduced to Provide Pre-1972 Sound Recording Public Performance Clarity – What Issues Does It Leave Unresolved?

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?
Continue Reading Copyright Office Makes Changes to Registration of Designated Agents for Take-Down Notices for User Generated Content – Reminder of December 1 Deadline to Register in New Electronic System

The Copyright Office is scheduled to publish in the Federal Register tomorrow an extension of time for parties who wish to comment on the Request for Additional Comments in its study of Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the “safe harbor” for those Internet Service Providers who host websites or run networks on

The New York State Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, has ruled that there is no public performance right in pre-1972 sound recordings in the state of New York. The decision (available here in a version subject to revision) was reached after the US Court of Appeals certified the question to the state court as being necessary to resolve the appeal of a US District Court decision which had found such a right to exist in a lawsuit brought by Flo & Eddie of the band the Turtles against Sirius XM Radio. We wrote about the District Court’s decision here, and the certification to the state court here. Certifying a question from a Federal Court to a State Court is a rare matter, done when a Federal Court needs guidance as to the state’s treatment of a legal issue under state law where there is no clear precedent, and where the state law issue is central to the resolution of the case. The NY Court of Appeals did not have to accept the certification, but it did to resolve this somewhat obscure issue of state intellectual property law (most of which is governed by Federal law).

The NY Court’s decision was not unanimous, as there was one dissenting Justice who would have found that a performance right does exist. The dissenting justice thought that there should be a state performance right – but a right co-terminus with the Federal right, thus applying only to digital services and not to terrestrial radio and presumably not to retail outlets, bars and restaurants and other businesses that may play music. That Justice seemed to be motivated by a desire to keep pace with current developments in the music industry, suggesting that common law should evolve with the times and, as streaming is now becoming more important to the music industry, there should be a royalty for such streams. Another justice concurred with the decision that there is no performance royalty in noninteractive services like that offered by Sirius XM, but there should be for interactive services like that offered by Spotify and Apple Music. The majority of the court disagreed with these justices.
Continue Reading NY State’s Highest Court Finds that There is No Public Performance Right in Pre-1972 Sound Recordings

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

In recent days, the press has been full of stories about Axl Rose from the band Guns N’ Roses sending take-down notices to websites, including Google affiliated sites, that feature a picture taken of him from one of his concerts making him look to be overweight (see, e.g. stories available here, here and here). The photos are often accompanied by captions, reinterpreting Guns N’ Roses songs by modifying the lyrics to include references to food or overeating or otherwise making light of the picture. The take down notice is premised on Rose’s alleged ownership of the underlying photo. According to the press reports, Rose requires all professional photographers taking photos at his concerts to sign releases, giving Rose ownership of all copyrights in the images taken. The legal issues raised by the take down notice are many – including reflecting on the recent calls for reform of the “safe harbor” provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for user-generated content much in the news lately, particularly with respect to YouTube videos including music (see our article here). No doubt, however, the first issue that will be considered in answering these take down notices is whether the images and associated commentary constitute “fair use.”

The DMCA has adopted a “safe harbor” for “internet service providers” including website owners who host user-generated content – content that is posted not by the site owner and its employees, but instead by users of the site (see our article here). As the hosts of these sites do not control what is being posted, Congress in adopting the DMCA, thought that it was important that the site owners not be liable if users post content that could potentially infringe on some third party’s intellectual property rights. However, the site owner must take certain steps to minimize the posting of infringing content – including making clear in its descriptions of the proper use of the site that users need to respect intellectual property rights, and providing both on the site and in a registration form filed with the Copyright Office the name and contact information for a person who copyright holders should contact if they believe that infringing content has been posted on the site (the Copyright Office is proposing changes to that form, see our article here). Copyright holders can then notify these identified individuals of the perceived infringement by sending what are commonly referred to as “take down notices.” Certain formalities need to be followed in sending these notices are provided under the provisions of the DMCA, including a specific identification of the infringing content, and a good faith belief that the content is in fact infringing. In connection with any take down notice and the decision of the site owner as to whether to honor that request, the question of fair use must be evaluated.
Continue Reading Axl Rose DMCA Takedown Notices Illustrate the Difficulty With Safe Harbor Reforms – User-Generated Content and Fair Use Issues

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