During the holidays, we did not get a chance to mention the draft legislation circulated by Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) proposing changes in the Copyright Act, including the provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that created Section 512 of the Act – the safe harbor for user-generated content.  The legislation also proposes other changes in the law, including changing the structure of the Copyright Office by making it an Executive Branch agency with substantive rulemaking authority, as part of the Commerce Department.  The legislation (a full copy is available here and a summary can be found here) was not formally introduced in the waning days of the last Congress.  Instead, Senator Tillis released it for public comment with the intent that the draft would be refined based on those comments before being formally introduced for legislative consideration.  The Senator is seeking comments by March 5, 2021 from all interested parties to determine how the proposals would affect their interests.  Press releases from his office indicate that he is seeking input from a broad array of interests, from the creative community to the tech companies that use copyrighted content to consumers who may find that the platforms they use might police content differently if there are changes in the law.

Reform of the DMCA safe harbor provisions has long been sought by copyright holders who feel that the insulation from liability afforded to tech companies who host content created by others has led to widespread infringement of copyrighted materials.  We wrote at length about these issues in 2016 when the Copyright Office itself reviewed questions about user-generated content (see, for instance, our articles here and here).  In many ways, the issues with Section 512 are similar to those about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – the extent to which big tech companies hosting user-generated content should be liable for that content and should take efforts to police content on their platforms.  Section 230 provides insulation from civil liability other than that which arises under the intellectual property laws (so it protects online hosting companies from liability for matters including defamation or invasion of privacy – see our post here), while Section 512 provides insulation from liability for intellectual property infringement.  However, the Section 512 procedures for obtaining insulation from liability are different from, and in many cases are more stringent than, those under Section 230.
Continue Reading Proposal for Reform of Copyright Act Released for Public Comment – Including Changes for the Safe Harbor for User-Generated Content, the Status of the Copyright Office, and Orphan Works

The US House of Representatives has been looking at potential reform of the Copyright Act for some time, holding a number of hearings before the Committee here in Washington DC (see, for instance, our article here about one of those hearings). Yesterday, the Committee announced that it is taking its examination on the road, conducting a “listening tour” of the country, starting with a roundtable on music issues to be held in Nashville on September 22. The Committee’s announcement of the listening tour (available here), says that future dates and locations (and presumably topics) will be announced at a later date.   The announcement states:

America’s copyright industries – movies, television programming, music, books, video games and computer software – and technology sector are vitally important to our national economy.  The House Judiciary Committee’s copyright review is focused on determining whether our copyright laws are still working in the digital age to reward creativity and innovation in order to ensure these crucial industries can thrive.

So what are some of the issues that are likely to be considered? On the music side, there are many issues, including questions about the disparity between the payments from digital media companies made to songwriters as opposed to sound recording rights holders (see our article here), the amounts of the royalties themselves (with digital media companies finding many royalties to be too high to allow for a profitable operation while rights holders argue that they are too low to compensate creators for the decrease in the sale of music in a physical form – see our article on how the one-to-one nature of the digital performance complicates the discussion of the value of music when compared with analog performances), issues as to whether broadcasters should pay a performance royalty for sound recordings, and the question of pre-1972 sound recordings (see our last article on pre-1972 sound recordings, here). Many of these issues were addressed by the Copyright Office in its report on reform of the copyright laws as they relate to music (see our summary here). Some of the songwriter issues are also being considered by the Department of Justice in its review of the antitrust consent decrees governing ASCAP and BMI (see our article here).
Continue Reading House Judiciary Committee Begins Nationwide Listening Tour on Copyright Reform – First Roundtable on September 22 in Nashville Focusing on Music Issues

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?