In short, if you have in the past registered a Copyright Agent manually with the U.S. Copyright Office in order to qualify for immunity from claims of copyright infringement arising from user-generated content on your website, then you must re-register online by the end of 2017, or you will no longer qualify for the safe harbor immunity. So, you should re-register your Copyright Agent here now.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) plays a central role in facilitating the sharing of content online. In fact, without the DMCA, the Internet as we know it would not even exist. If not for the DMCA, whenever user-generated content that is posted on a website infringes someone’s copyright, then the website would be liable. This liability could be huge – and would shut down user-generated sites like YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn and millions of others. The Internet would be a wasteland.
Safe Harbor Qualification:
It’s fairly easy to qualify for the DMCA immunity safe harbor.
The website owner must:
- Register a Copyright Agent with the U.S. Copyright Office
- Not have actual knowledge of the infringing material
- Provide contact information and instructions for copyright owners to provide infringement notices
- Promptly remove content when notified that it infringes
- Not receive direct financial benefit from the infringing content
There are various nuances required for compliance with most of the above requirements. However, the requirement of registration of the Copyright Agent with the U.S. Copyright Office is not one of them. It’s black and white. If you don’t register, you don’t qualify for the safe harbor immunity.
New Online Registration Requirement
In the past, the Copyright Office operated in the dark ages as if the digital world did not exist and required snail mailing in a Copyright Agent form with payment. This registration was supposed to be good forever. However, it occurred to someone last year that offering an online process for registering Copyright Agents might be more efficient. So, now, you must do it online, and you will need to renew it every 3 years – and it’s critical to remember to do that.
However, anyone who followed the old manual procedures must re-register online by the end of 2017 or lose immunity under the DMCA. It’s unclear why the Copyright Office has imposed this draconian result – especially because there are website owners out there that will not be aware of this new requirement. Also, I have heard that there are some bugs in this new online registration process – so you may need to be persistent to make sure it gets completed properly.