Section 512 of the Copyright Act provides a safe harbor for Internet service providers whose systems are used to transmit content created by third parties which infringes on copyrights.  The provisions apply not only to common-carrier like services that merely transmit third-party content, but also to websites and other digital services that allow users to post material onto the service provider’s own sites – services like YouTube or Facebook whose very businesses are built on the ability of individuals to posting material on their sites.  We’ve written about the safe harbor recently (see our articles here and here).  The safe harbor requires, among other things, that the service provider not encourage the posting of infringing content on the site, but also that it take-down infringing material found on the site, and that it provide a “Designated Agent” for service of “take-down notices” – requests from copyright holders that infringing material be taken down from the site.  That agent must be identified both on the website of the service and registered with the Copyright Office.  The Copyright Office today announced rules for a new electronic system for registering such Agents.

We wrote about the Copyright Office’s proposal advanced 5 years ago for the new system, and it appears that it has now become a reality.  Currently, service providers register a Designated Agent on a paper form filed with the Copyright Office, which the Copyright Office scans as a PDF file that is uploaded, individually, onto the Copyright Office’s website.  Many felt that this system was clumsy and did not provide the information necessary for the take-down system to work efficiently, as it was difficult to search and was often full of outdated information.  The new electronic system adopted by the Copyright Office and effective on December 1, is expected to remedy many of these complaints.
Continue Reading Copyright Office Announces Rules for New Electronic Filing System for Service Provider’s Designated Agents for Take-Down Notices Under Section 512 Safe Harbor for User-Generated Content

We wrote about the Department of Commerce’s Green Paper on Copyright Policy, Creativity, and Innovation in the Digital Economy that was released back in July. While our article principally addressed the music issues raised by the Green Paper, many other issues were discussed in its 120 pages. The questions raised by the Aereo case (about which we wrote here, and we wrote about the similar service, FilmOnX, here) were also discussed in the paper. Many other issues were also addressed, and the Commerce Department, through NTIA (the office within Commerce that advises the Executive Branch of the government on Telecommunications issues) and the Patent and Trademark Office, is now beginning the process of asking for public comment on some of the many issues raised in the Green Paper. The NTIA released a Public Notice, dated September 30 and still available on the NTIA website despite the Federal government shutdown, asking for comment on a number of these issues. 

The specific issues on which comments are sought (with our explanation of some of the issues involved) are the following:

  • "the legal framework for the creation of remixes" – the only music issue specifically teed up for comment.  The Green Paper had asked if consideration should be given to some sort of compulsory license for remixes, mash-ups and similar uses of music, or if other steps could or should be taken to allow for the creation of such works;
  • "the relevance and scope of the first sale doctrine in the digital environment." This is asking for comments on questions including whether consumers should be able to re-sell downloads that they purchase, as they have the right to do in a physical world;
  • "the appropriate calibration of statutory damages in the contexts of individual file sharers and of secondary liability for large-scale infringement."   This question seemingly stems from the issue raised by the huge statutory damage requests in mass-infringement cases, damages that in one case alone could exceed the entire revenue of many industries whose works are infringed. Questions have been raised as to whether the full amount of statutory damages should be available for each and every infringement, particularly where such infringement is done on a limited basis.  Obviously, though, copyright holders are concerned about large scale infringement, and want to preserve and even expand penalties in such cases;
  • "whether and how the government can facilitate the further development of a robust online licensing environment." It is unclear exactly what this question is looking at. Perhaps it is seeking comments on ideas such as the one the that government create some sort of copyright hub that would facilitate the identification of copyright holders and the licensing of their works; and
  • "establishing a multistakeholder dialogue on improving the operation of the notice and takedown system for removing infringing content from the Internet under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)." Next to the question on damages, this issue is likely to be among the most controversial of the proposals, and we’ll address that below in a little more detail below.

The reform of the DMCA notice and takedown system is looking to reform the current system where operators of websites generally have immunity from liability for copyright infringement for user generated content – unless the sites knew specifically about the infringing content and did not take steps to take it down, or unless they actively solicited or encouraged such uses. This is often referred to as the "safe harbor" for sites that feature user-generated content.  The safe harbor has allowed many of today’s most popular services, including YouTube and even Facebook to thrive, allowing millions of consumers to have an outlet for their interests through social sharing, without the sites having to review each and every post to determine if there is infringing content in the material that users have shared. We have written about this safe harbor before (see, for instance, our posts here and here).


Continue Reading Comments Sought on Commerce Department Green Paper on Copyright Policy, Creativity, and Innovation in the Digital Economy – Including Issues of User Generated Content and Appropriate Damages for Copyright Infringement

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

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