The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is an important law for providers of online services or any website which allows users to upload or post content. The DMCA, whose relevant part is now codified at 17 U.S.C. 512, provides safe harbors from copyright infringement for online service providers for user posted content.
Generally, this means that when a user posts content which is protected by someone else’s copyright to a protected website, the user but not the website is responsible for the copyright violation. There are some ways that a website or online service provider can lose their protection. The DMCA’s safe harbors will not protect a website if it does not remove copyrighted material when properly notified, if it ignores knowledge of specific infringing content, or under some circumstances if it is willfully blind to infringing content.
The full details of when a website is or is not sheltered by the safe harbors goes beyond this short article and should be discussed with a qualified attorney, but the copyright office has recently announced a change in one of the requirements.
In order to avail itself of the safe harbors, a website must register a designated agent with the copyright office. The copyright office has recently announced a new system for registering a designated agent. As they phase out the new system, they have announced that websites which have previously registered an agent will need to register again with the system prior to December 31, 2017 or risk losing their protections under the DMCA under the interpretation of the copyright office.
The new, fully-electronic system, is likely to be more efficient for the copyright office and allow easier searches for information. It will also result in lower fees to register a designated agent for online service providers. However, the need for sites which have already registered to reregister could cause problems if any operators are unaware. A qualified attorney can assist with reregistration or any questions.