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

March appears to be another busy month on the FCC’s regulatory calendar.  While March is one of those months where there is not the usual assortment of EEO public file reports, quarterly issues programs lists or children’s television reports and noncommercial ownership report obligations (see our Broadcasters’ Regulatory Calendar here for some of these dates), it is a month with many other significant regulatory dates.  For instance, this month brings the scheduled start of the TV incentive auction as stations make binding commitments as top whether they will accept the FCC’s opening bids in the reverse auction.  It also brings deadlines for comments in a number of other proceedings that may affect broadcasters, including the FCC’s proceeding on AM radio revitalization and the Copyright Office’s look at the safe harbor for user-generated content.  In addition to comment periods, the lowest unit rate periods that apply during the 45 days before a Presidential primary are in effect in many states, plus March brings other deadlines including those for the first filing date for monthly SoundExchange Reports of Use under the new Internet radio royalty rates.  All make for a month where broadcasters need to watch regulatory developments very closely.

So let’s start with the incentive auction.  As we wrote just a few days ago, March 29 is the deadline for TV broadcasters to make a binding commitment to accept the FCC’s initial offer to buy their spectrum.  TV broadcasters who filed applications to participate in the Incentive Auction back in January were merely leaving the door open to their participation.  The March 29 deadline is the real legally binding commitment to surrender their spectrum at the price that the FCC has offered for their stations.  To make sure that broadcasters understand what they are doing, and how to make their commitments, as we wrote in our article, the FCC has set up an online tutorial on the system and will be holding a workshop about the process.  So if you have a TV station interested in taking advantage of the FCC’s offer to buy out your frequency, this is the month that the commitment needs to be made.
Continue Reading March Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Including Incentive Auction Commitments, New Webcasting Royalties, and Comments on AM Revitalization and Copyright Safe Harbor for User-Generated Content

The Register of Copyrights, Maria Pallante, has made a series of speeches about the need to modernize Copyright, including offering testimony before Congress on the matter.  Her comments are but one sign that modernizing the Copyright Act has become the new catch-phrase in Washington. As the Courts have over the last few months wrestled with a host of copyright issues principally arising from digital media, boundaries that had carefully been set up by established copyright principles have been blurred – like the distinctions between a performance and a reproduction, or a public performance and one that is not.  These are distinctions that can have great importance as to who must be paid or whether any payment at all is due under current copyright laws – as in the Aereo case about which we wrote here. The call to modernize the Act is one looking for a copyright act that fits the realities of the 21st century. 

In recent months, Aereo is but one of many cases where the Courts have struggled with how to apply laws that were developed for the analog media, where boundaries are relatively clear, to the new digital world, where many copyright concepts don’t clearly fit reality. We’ve seen a number of cases interpreting the DMCA safe harbor provisions for user-generated content – including the NY State case about which we wrote here deciding Internet service providers were not excused from liability where pre-1972 sound recordings were included in user-generated content, as well as much more sweeping decisions upholding the protections of the safe harbor in broader applications, including protections extended to YouTube in its long-running dispute with Viacom. We’ve seen a decision determining that there is no right to resell digital copies – finding that the first sale doctrine (that says that consumers can resell physical goods that they buy without compensating the original creator) does not apply to digital goods. And outside the litigation sphere, we’ve seen innumerable stories about rights and royalties – from questions about Internet radio royalties like those that may apply to the new Apple streaming service, to disputes over the rights to video programs taken from one medium (like TV) and used in another (online or otherwise on-demand). 

In a speech last week to the World Creator’s Summit in Washington, DC, Register Pallante revisited the topic of Copyright reform, and laid out many of the issues that she felt needed to be addressed in any comprehensive reform that may occur. The list was long, and is bound to be controversial. She noted that the last comprehensive reform of the Act, in the 1990s leading to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, was 20 years in the making – a delay that can’t occur now given the number of pressing issues. As she noted, the importance of copyright has never been greater to the average person. That, to me is very clear, as digital media has put so many more people in a position to be involved in copyright issues, as doing everything from creating a Facebook or Pinterest page to a YouTube video, or accessing a file on BitTorrent or any other sharing site, can immediately immerse an individual in a copyright dispute with consequences far greater than the improper use of a copy machine or cassette recorder would have had 20 or 30 years ago. So what does she propose to examine?

Continue Reading Register of Copyrights Maria Pallente Calls for Comprehensive Copyright Reform to Adapt to the Digital World – What Is Being Proposed?

This week, the Chairman of the US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee issued a press release stating that he intends that the Committee do a thorough reexamination of the Copyright Act, noting that new technologies stemming from digital media have upset many settled expectations in Copyright Law, and confused many issues. That this release was issued in the same week as a decision of New York’s Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department, on the obscure issue of pre-1972 sound recordings is perhaps appropriate, as this decision demonstrates how an obscure provision of the copyright act can have a fundamental effect on the functioning of many online media outlets – including essentially any outlet that allows user-generated content with audio. The Court’s ruling, which conflicts with a Federal Court’s decision on the same question, would essentially remove the safe harbor protection for sites that allow for the posting of user generated content – where that content contains any pre-1972 sound recordings which don’t fall within the protections of the Copyright Act. Let’s explore this decision and its ramifications in a little more depth.

As we have written before, an Internet service that allows users to post content to that service is exempt from any liability for that content under two statutes. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act insulates the service from any claims of copyright infringement contained in any of the user generated content, if the service has met several standards. These standards include the obligations for the service to take down the infringing material if given proper notice from the copyright holder. The Service cannot encourage the infringement or profit directly from the infringement itself, and it must register a contact person with the Copyright Office so that the copyright owner knows who to contact to provide the notice of the takedown. While the exact meaning of some of these provisions is subject to some debate (including debate in recent cases, including one that Viacom has been prosecuting against YouTube that we may address in a subsequent post), the general concept is well-established.

Continue Reading How a NY State Court Decision on Pre-1972 Sound Recordings Clouds the Safe Harbor Protections of Websites Featuring User Generated Content

SoundExchange claims on its website that webcaster SWCast.net was shut down when SoundExchange complained to its ISP that the service was not paying royalties for the use of the music played by the site.  SWCast was an aggregator of webcast channels created by other individuals, who paid the company – allegedly for the streaming and for the royalties that were due for that streaming.  According to the SoundExchange press release, the webcaster was shut down when SoundExchange "sent a letter requesting that the hosting ISP disable access to the SWCast site."  SoundExchange’s statement says that, despite repeated attempts to engage the webcaster, SWCast neither paid royalties nor filed reports of use for the songs streamed by the service, leading to SoundExchange’s action.  As far as we know, this is the first time that SoundExchange has taken such an action. 

How did this work?  While we have not seen the letter that SoundExchange sent to the ISP, we can assume that it alleged that SWCast was infringing on copyrighted materials by not paying the required royalties.  ISPs have a safe harbor under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, protecting them from liability for the infringement of users of their services, if the ISP does not encourage the infringement, registers an agent with the Copyright Office, and agrees to take down infringing content when properly notified by a copyright holder (see our post here).  We can only assume that SoundExchange or the copyright holders themselves notified the ISP that the material streamed by this webcaster was infringing as no royalties were being paid and, to protect itself, the ISP blocked access to the site.

Continue Reading SoundExchange Claims Credit for Shutting Down Webcaster Who Was Not Paying Royalties