Law

U.S. Copyright Office requires electronic registration

Digital registration offers protection to service providers from copyright infringement by users who post.

January 5, 2018
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By taking necessary steps, online service providers (OSP) can avoid legal litigations.

The U.S. Copyright Office instituted a new electronic registration system, where online service providers can protect themselves from copyright infringement lawsuits.

Companies that have an online presence can unknowingly be liable for intellectual properties, such as poetry, novels, songs and movies, that are posted on their websites by users or any third party. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) offers a “safe harbor” protection.

“The Digital Millennium Copyright Act provides OSPs an opportunity to remain innocent middlemen in a dispute between copyright holders and any user who posts infringing content, provided the OSP meets certain criteria,” said John Saint Amour, a supervisor at the U.S. Copyright Office.

Starting Jan. 1, all OSPs are responsible for users’ posts, whether they post original content or copyright infringing content on their website, unless they electronically register with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Amber Underhill, a copyright and trademark attorney who practices at Grand Rapids-based Warner Norcross & Judd, said website owners have to take certain steps to avoid the legal implications.

“You have to designate an agent to receive notifications that someone is claiming that their copyright is being infringed,” Underhill said. “So, you have to designate that party and then you have to list the person’s contact information on your website. You also have to file that designee with the U.S. Copyright Office.”

Paper-related registrations now are invalid. Companies not only need to file for protection online, but they must do so every three years. There is a $6 fee per designee for registration.

“If any of the criteria are not met, such as not registering a designated agent to receive notices of claims of infringement, then the OSP could be liable for infringing content found on the OSP’s website(s),” Amour said.

If a person’s copyright material is posted on a website and it did not have the appropriate accreditation, the owner of the material must send a “takedown notice,” which informs the OSP of alleged infringement claim.

The notice must be in writing along with the original copyright content. There also needs to be evidence of the alleged copyright material, provided contact information for the accuser and signature authorizing the notification is accurate with the understanding the claims can be a crime.

After the OSP is notified and the copyright content still is posted, then there can be legal repercussions, such as a civil or criminal infringement lawsuit.

Underhill said she assumes the reason the U.S. Copyright Office decided to transition from paper to solely digital is because OSPs weren’t frequently updating their designee’s contact information.

“When copyright owners were going to send notices to these OSP saying, ‘Hey, this content is infringing on my copyright,’ that contact information was not up to date because it was done on paper probably many years ago.

“So, I think these new changes are to make everything electronic and (update) the renewals to make sure OSPs are keeping their information up to date and current.”

Former President Bill Clinton signed the DMCA into law in 1998. Since then, there has been a series of changes, including the recent electronic registration system.

“There’s no deadline for an Online Service Provider (OSP) to register their designated agent,” Amour said.

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