From the Electronic Frontier Foundation comes this news: Under a new rule from the Copyright Office, website owners could be exposed to massive risk of copyright liability simply for neglecting to submit an online form on time. The rule could eliminate the safe harbor status that thousands of websites receive under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
Current law (17 U.S.C. § 512, which was enacted as part of the DMCA) protects the owners of websites and online services from monetary liability based on the allegedly infringing activities of their users or other third parties. Owners must meet many requirements in order to be eligible for that protection, including participating in the notice-and-takedown procedure for allegedly infringing content.
They also must register an agent with the Copyright Office, someone who can respond to takedown requests and other communications. The Copyright Office rewrote the registration process this week, requiring everyone to re-register before December 31, 2017, and renew that registration every three years. When website owners inevitably forget to renew, copyright holders will be able to take advantage of that mistake to hold them liable for their users’ infringing activities. In fact, it will be trivial for abusive copyright holders to use the Copyright Office’s own system to compile lists of sites at risk.
Here’s what this means for website owners that allows users to post content on their site. Under the DMCA, If some knucklehead-third-party puts up a picture or a poem or a movie clip on your site without the copyright holder’s consent your site is entitled to notice and an opportunity to take the offending work down before you become liable. But if you don’t fulfill all of the DMCA’s requirements or if your registration lapsed, you could be liable for copyright infringement. And unless you think this is some rare event, I can tell you form experience that copyright trolling entities are licking their lips in anticipation of the free bounty the Copyright Office just unleashed. Many web owners will be unaware that their DMCA registration is invalid because many of them might not even be aware of the law or that they even have a registered DMCA agent since they used some web developer to put up their site four years ago and haven’t thought much about it since. We have helped so many website owners used their DMCA protection to avoid trolling claims over the years. In light of this announcement we will be sending out a mass email reminder to our website clients to renew their DMCA registrations before the deadline.
I was going to further explain the impact this needless new rule will have but the EFF said it best:
What’s truly frightening about this rule is who it’s likely to affect the most. YouTube and Facebook will be fine. It’s small companies, small nonprofits, and activist groups that are at risk—the same groups that are most poorly poised to fight copyright infringement suits. As we told the Copyright Office earlier this year, DMCA 512 already imposes a long list of conditions on service providers, and we’ve seen many well-meaning service providers lose their status over technicalities. Requiring providers to commit to updating their registrations indefinitely is a step too far.
Safe harbors are an essential part of how the modern Internet works. Any proposal that either weakens safe harbor protections or piles more responsibilities on participants requires extra scrutiny. We fear that this new rule will lock out precisely the organizations that most need safe harbor status.
Well said, EFF. Let’s hope the Copyright Office sees the errors of its ways, but I doubt it. So a word to the wise: Update and renew your registration now to make sure you don’t get caught in this trap. Thanks for putting me on to this info Robert Krausankas at copyright-trolls.com
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