Register Your Copyright Agent Info or Lose Safe Harbor Protection Against Copyright Infringement Claims By Sean D. Garrison
On December 1, 2016, the U.S. Copyright Office will implement its new electronic system for registering and maintaining the contact information of designated copyright agents under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). To qualify for, or maintain, the safe harbor protections of the DMCA, all online service providers and website owners who allow users to post, store or transmit content must register (or re-register) on the new electronic system. Failure to register subjects the provider to potential liability for monetary damages arising from a user’s posting or sending material that infringes another person’s copyright.
What is the DMCA?
The DMCA was enacted in 1998 to address issues related to the protection and enforcement of digital copyrighted works. One of its principal effects was the creation of a safe harbor for online services providers (such as hosting companies, e-mail providers, and some websites) whose services could be utilized by customers or other users to transmit or publish material that infringes another person’s copyright. If the online service provider follows all of the statutory requirements for safe harbor protection, it cannot be held liable for monetary damages arising from the copyright infringement of its users.
DMCA Registration of Designated Copyright Agent
One of the statutory requirements for obtaining DMCA safe harbor protection is registering with the U.S. Copyright Office the name and contact information of the service provider’s agent designated to receive notices of alleged infringement. Registration is a condition of safe harbor protection. If your agent is not registered, you do not qualify for the safe harbor protection and may become liable for money damages based upon your customer’s copyright infringement. Traditionally, agent registration with the Copyright Office was conducted by mail or in person.
On December 1, 2016, that changes. The Copyright Office’s new electronic registration system will go live and begin accepting registration online. Even if you have previously registered your designated agent under the old system, you must re-file under the new electronic system in order to maintain safe harbor protection on future infringement claims. If you previously registered with the Copyright Office under the old system, you have until December 31, 2017 to file your new registration under the electronic system.
Do I Need to Register?
Under the DMCA, “online service provider” is broadly defined. It includes services providers that you would traditionally expect: internet service providers, website hosting companies, cloud services provider, and e-mail services providers. But it also includes the owners and operators of websites or other platforms that allow its users to post or transmit content on or though the website. This might include not only commercial websites, but educational websites or online educational platforms and non-profit websites. In short, if you have a website, portal or platform that allows users to post, transmit, or store digital materials on or through your system, you should register for the DMCA safe harbor protection on December 1, or as soon thereafter as possible. Once initially registered, you must renew those registrations every three years in order to maintain safe harbor eligibility.
Questions and Assistance
For other questions and assistance in understanding and complying with all of the DMCA safe harbor requirements and registering your designated agent, you should contact a copyright attorney with experience in this area.