February 10, 2017
Starting on December 1, 2016, the United States Copyright Office (USCO) changed the process for registering Designated Agents under the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The good news is that the USCO has made it easier and less expensive to register and it is all online. The only downside is that if you have already registered through the old paper system, you need to re-register online by the end of 2017.
You may not be aware that in order to be eligible for the DMCA safe harbor provisions, you need to register a Designated Agent with the USCO to receive copyright infringement notices. Registering is highly recommended if you have a website, blog or social media site that hosts content uploaded by third parties directly to your site – especially if you have little or no control over such content. Unless you have registered a Designated Agent, you could be liable for copyright infringement under the U.S. Copyright Act for reproducing infringing content provided by third parties – even if you had no idea that the content was infringing or was even posted.
More specifically, the safe harbor is created by section 512 of the DMCA. Subject to certain conditions, it gives internet service providers and website operators (collectively, “Online Service Providers”) immunity against liability for copyright infringement with respect to “information residing on systems or networks at the direction of users.” It does not mean that you can avoid liability for any infringing content on your website, but you may qualify for the safe harbor if the content was posted by someone else – if you have registered with the USCO.
My Canadian or international readers might be asking why should I care? In short, it reduces your exposure to liability if your site allows users to post content. For example, if a user posts a photo on the “forum” page of your website and the actual copyright owner is based in the United States, the rightsholder might pursue a claim against you for copyright infringement in the USA and you would not be eligible for the safe harbor unless you registered with the USCO.
Back to the good news – the new online system replaces a relatively cumbersome and costly manual process. The new online registration portal can be found at https://dmca.copyright.gov/osp/login.html. It only costs $6 and the registration lasts for three years. For now, it is not exactly the most user-friendly process, but the PlagiarismToday site provides a handy step-by-step guide to registering at https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2016/12/05/how-to-register-a-dmca-agent/. Depending on the nature of your online business, the $6 fee could be your best investment of the year.
Let me know if you have any questions about registering your Designated Agent with the USCO or any other copyright-related questions that you might have.
© 2017 Dan Pollack Law