The U.S. Copyright Office recently updated registration requirements that apply to many websites and apps.
All websites that include user-generated content (such as social media sites and forums) are subject to the rules outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA.) I’ve written about the DMCA before – here, for example.
Under the DMCA, websites are legally liable for any copyright infringements found in user-generated content unless those websites qualify for “Safe Harbor” protection.
One of the Safe Harbor provisions requires that the website registers with the Copyright Office the name and contact information of a “person” (I’ll explain the quotes later) designated to receive copyright takedown notices. These are notices that copyright holders send to the website requesting that the website removes allegedly infringing content. The person in question is referred to as the “designated agent.”
For example: let’s say your app allows users to post pictures (like Instagram). User X posts a picture on the site. I see it and realize that it’s a picture that I own. Under the DMCA, I can contact you and request that you take the picture down. As long as you comply, I can’t file a copyright infringement lawsuit against you, the app owner.
However, I need to be able to figure out how to notify you of this request. This is where the registration process comes in.
OK, so what’s new? As of December 1, 2016, websites who want to qualify for Safe Harbor protection must submit the information regarding their designated agent to the Copyright Office using their new electronic form. You can do so here. This designation must be updated every 3 years. The 3-year clock begins when the agent is designated or when the designation is amended. Meaning, if you change your designation to a new person, the 3-year clock starts over.
Note: websites that already had a DMCA designated agent on file are required to re-file using the new form no later than December 31, 2017.
Does the designated agent need to be an actual, physical person? No. The designated agent can be an individual, but it can also be a company position or title (say, “DMCA Designated Agent”), a department (such as “Legal”), or a third-party designated agent service.
Finally, you might be asking how much this costs. The government is always jacking up fees and costs, right? Not always – the fee used to be $105. Now it’s just $6. Thanks, Obama.
Final note – the same fee applies whenever the registration is renewed or amended.
So there you go. DMCA Safe Harbor protection is incredibly valuable to owners of websites and apps. Without this protection, copyright liability is essentially unlimited. So even if your site only hosts a small amount of user-generated content, fill out the form, cough up the 6 bucks, and as long as you comply with the other DMCA Safe Harbor requirements, you’re in good shape.