Keep Safe Harbors Safe
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act safe harbors are a vital protection for websites and Internet services of all sizes. But thanks to a new Copyright Office policy, website owners could lose safe harbor protections if they don’t register online by December 31. And that’s not all: Hollywood lobbyists are pushing the Copyright Office to eliminate safe harbor protections altogether.
If you own a website, don’t forget to re-register with the Copyright Office in 2017. Whether you own a website or not, sign our letter telling the Office to keep safe harbors safe.
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The DMCA safe harbors protect website owners and app developers against lawsuits when users post copyrighted material. Because of copyright law’s massive, unpredictable penalties, even personal websites and small businesses could face bankruptcy if just a few of their users infringe copyright. The DMCA safe harbors helped make today’s Internet possible by protecting businesses of all sizes. Without it, even the smallest websites that accept user posts could be forced to police every upload for infringing material—an incredibly complicated task that even major entertainment companies fare poorly at.
Unfortunately, the Copyright Office has added another hoop for website and service owners to jump through to keep the safe harbor. The law requires site and service owners to submit contact information to the Copyright Office for an “agent” who can receive and act on accusations of copyright infringement. Now, the Copyright Office is requiring all website and service owners to re-register their agent every three years. Failing to re-register before January 1, 2018, could leave websites and services vulnerable to lawsuits.
That's not all. Major media and entertainment companies want Congress to change the law to add even more requirements, including automatic filtering of user-uploaded material. Even major Internet companies like Google and Facebook have failed to build effective copyright filters that satisfy major film and music companies while avoiding censorship of lawful material. For smaller companies and personal websites, this kind of filtering is effectively impossible.
If you run a website or app that accepts user-uploaded content, then don't wait. Register (or re-register) a DMCA agent with the Copyright Office by December 31. Whether you own a website or not, sign our letter to the Copyright Office telling them why the safe harbors are important and asking them not to impose new obstacles.
Dear Copyright Office,
As Internet users, website owners, and online entrepreneurs, we urge you to preserve and strengthen the Digital Millennium Copyright Act safe harbors for Internet service providers. In particular, we urge the Copyright Office to reconsider its rule that makes agent registrations under Section 512(c)(2) expire every three years. Furthermore, the Office should not support or recommend placing any additional requirements on the safe harbor, such as a requirement to filter user posts and uploads for copyright infringement.
The DMCA safe harbors are key to keeping the Internet open to all. They allow anyone to launch a website, app, or other service without fear of crippling liability for copyright infringement by users.
Under the Office’s new rules, registrations of agents to receive notices under Section 512(c) of the DMCA expire on December 31, 2017 and must be re-registered every three years. This rule is not required by the DMCA, and it creates an unnecessary bureaucratic hurdle for websites of all sizes. The new rules could leave website owners without the protection of the safe harbor even if they respond diligently to notices of infringement, and even if their agent’s contact information is up to date. On the other hand, failing to maintain accurate contact information jeopardizes the safe harbor even without a re-registration requirement, which makes that requirement unnecessary. We're concerned that the new requirement will particularly disadvantage small and nonprofit websites. We ask you to reconsider this rule.
More importantly, the Office should not recommend adding more sweeping requirements to the safe harbor. Major media and entertainment companies and their surrogates want Congress to replace today’s DMCA with a new law that would require websites and Internet services to use automated filtering to enforce copyrights. Systems like these, no matter how sophisticated, cannot accurately determine the copyright status of a work, nor whether a use is licensed, a fair use, or otherwise non-infringing. Simply put, automated filters censor lawful and important speech. What's more, even deeply flawed filters are prohibitively expensive for all but the largest Internet services. Requiring all websites to implement filtering would reinforce the market power wielded by today’s large Internet services and allow them to stifle competition.
We urge you to preserve effective, usable DMCA safe harbors, and encourage Congress to do the same.