Section 512 copyright act

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

The Copyright Office last week issued its Report to Congress on pre-1972 sound recordings (with an Executive Summary), addressing whether to bring these recordings under Federal law.  As we wrote last year when the Copyright Office solicited comments on the issues raised by this report, sound recordings (i.e. aural recordings embodied in some fixed form like a CD, record or digital file) created in the United States prior to 1972 are not protected under Federal copyright law.  Instead, any protections accorded to these sound recordings are under state laws.  Congress, at the request of a number of archivist and music library groups, asked that the Copyright Office review the issues that would be raised by bringing these sound recordings under Federal law.  Some archivists and librarians feared that, in preserving old recordings, they could run afoul of state copyright laws, and that a unified set of rules under Federal law might be easier to follow.  Why is this issue more broadly important to the music community?  For internet radio station operators, it is because the proposals to Federalize all such recordings could have an impact on digital performance royalties (as there does not appear to be any public performance right in sound recordings under state laws and, under current law, these recordings would not be covered under the SoundExchange royalties that most noninteractive services play).  The Report is also significant in that it raises questions about copyright laws dealing with user-generated content, specifically whether the DMCA safe harbor provisions protecting the operators of Internet service companies from copyright liability for the content posted by third parties apply to pre-1972 sound recordings.

This is only a report to Congress, and such reports have no binding impact.  Instead, they merely set out the position of the authors of the report from the Copyright Office.  Such reports are also cited as evidence in court cases as to what the Office believes the current state of the law to be.  The Office has written a number of reports over the years making suggestions about how copyrights should be administered and, given the complexity of copyright law and the competing interests affected by any revisions to the laws, many of their proposals have never been implemented.  This report suggests that pre-1972 sound recordings be brought under Federal laws.  Specifically, the report suggests that current copyright holders get protection for most pre-1972 works until 2067 (when state law protections are to run out under the current law, allowing the works to move into the public domain).  The protections would be accorded to works that are used by the copyright holder (sold at some reasonable price) and registered with the Copyright Office at some point after a law implementing its proposals became effective.  Works from prior to 1923 would be subject to a similar use and registration process, but would only get 25 years of additional protection.  Seemingly, protections for works that are not registered would pass into the public domain after the applicable registration period expires.  For some webcasting companies, this change could have an immediate impact.

Continue Reading Copyright Office Report Recommends Federalization of Pre-1972 Sound Recordings – Possible Implications For Music Royalties and User-Generated Content