Practice Alert for Operators of Interactive Websites

IMPORTANT NEWS FOR WEBSITE OWNERS: New rules by U.S. Copyright Office have made it easier for owners of interactive websites to limit their liability but, in doing so,  has also created new deadlines and risks. Incorporating user-generated content (e.g. comments, forums, and opportunities to upload photos or other files) into a website has always been risky because of the difficulty of preventing users from violating copyright laws (e.g. posting photos they don’t own) and the possibility of getting drawn into infringement lawsuits. Years ago, a “safe harbor” was created as part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) to protect the operators of websites from liability based on the actions of website users. Besides including the relevant language in the website’s Terms of Use, this safe harbor required the owner to designate a person to serve as an “agent” for copyright complaints. Seemed simple enough but, in practical terms, it has always been a hassle, thanks to an inconvenient paper form to designate the agent and hard to decipher fees (which of course had to be mailed in).


As of this month, the system has been radically overhauled and owners can now provide all this information online and pay the significantly reduced fee of $6. In addition, a specific person need not be named (instead a role like “General Counsel” or “Compliance Dept.” can be listed).


For those with agents already on file prior to December 2016, the Copyright Office is requiring re-filing through the electronic system by the end of 2016. All filers must renew every three years.
It is extremely important to stay in compliance with the DMCA as protection against costly copyright infringement lawsuits based on the actions of your website users.
I’ll be reaching out to clients who I know are registered through the old system. Whether or not your website is currently interactive, if you’d like to know more about the safe harbor or copyright risks in general, please email [email protected]. Visit the online registry for more information.