user generated content

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information necessary for the take-down system to work efficiently, as it was difficult to search and was often full of outdated information.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

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

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 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

Last month, we wrote about the FCC issues facing broadcasters in 2015.  Today, we’ll look at decisions that may come in other venues that could affect broadcasters and media companies in the remaining 11 months of 2015.  There are many actions in courts, at government agencies and in Congress that could change law or policy and affect operations of media companies in some way.  These include not just changes in communications policies directly, but also changes in copyright and other laws that could have a significant impact on the operations of all sorts of companies operating in the media world.

Starting with FCC issues in the courts, there are two significant proceedings that could affect FCC issues. First, there is the appeal of the FCC’s order setting the rules for the incentive auction.  Both Sinclair and the NAB have filed appeals that have been consolidated into a single proceeding, and briefing on the appeals has been completed, with oral arguments to follow in March.  The appeals challenge both the computation of allowable interference after the auction and more fundamental issues as to whether an auction is even permissible when there is only one station in a market looking to give up their channel.     The Court has agreed to expedite the appeal so as to not unduly delay the auction, so we should see a decision by mid-year that could tell us whether or not the incentive auction will take place on time in early 2016.
Continue Reading What Washington Has in Store for Broadcasters and Digital Media Companies in 2015 – Part 2 – Court Cases, Congressional Communications and Copyright Reform, and Other Issues

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

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

At this year’s NAB Convention, digital issues were much talked about.  In fact, the NAB held, for the first time, a day and a half session focusing on radio stations and their digital efforts, called the Digital Strategies Exchange.  I was on a panel called the Consultant’s Corner, and discussed legal issues that