Forum owners face a number of potential legal issues, but one stands out from the crowd – copyright infringement. The good news is the DMCA provides forum owners with immunity from copyright infringement claims based on content uploaded by members of the forum. However, you need to follow a compliance process. In this post, we take a look at one of those steps – designate a DMCA agent for forums.
DMCA Safe Harbor Immunity
The DMCA is a federal law in the United States covering copyright issues. Enacted in 1998, Section 512(c) represents one of the more critical aspects of the law. Section 512(c) is where we find the code for the DMCA safe harbor. The section reads:
“(1) In general. A service provider shall not be liable for monetary relief, or, except as provided in subsection (j), for injunctive or other equitable relief, for infringement of copyright by reason of the storage at the direction of a user of material that resides on a system or network controlled or operated by or for the service provider, if the service provider…”
In English, this language translates to a get out of jail card for you, the forum owner. You are the “service provider.” The members of the forum are “users.” This safe harbor immunity is incredibly valuable given we all know members can be an ignorant bunch who might not even know of the existence of copyright infringement.
Is there a catch to this beautiful, beautiful immunity? You know the world we live in! In this case, the catch is a forum owner needs to follow a compliance process to establish how copyright holders can submit complaints and then how the forum owner processes those complaints. Here is an overview of the DMCA compliance process for apps and websites.
DMCA and Forums
A forum must provide a method for a copyright holder to submit a complaint under the DMCA. The claim is given the title “DMCA takedown notice.” To facilitate this process, the drafters of the DMCA including language requiring a forum to select a DMCA agent. [What is an agent?] The forum must then list the agent’s information in an easily located area on the site. After that, you must register the agent with the Copyright Office.
How do you select an agent? Few restrictions exist. Yes, you can list yourself, but most forum owners do not. The problem is the agent’s name, phone number, and email address are listed publicly on the site and in an online database maintained by the Copyright Office that is available to the public.
At a minimum, you are going to receive mountains of spam and sales calls. [Oh, the sales calls.] In a worst case scenario, you could have disgruntled folks or “fans” showing up at your home. Pick out that one person who is bat-shit crazy on your forum. Now imagine them on your porch.
Can you act as the agent? Sure. Just read up on “Restraining Orders for Dummies.”
On a final note, we’ve observed some confusion by forum owner’s over the type of content addressed in the DMCA. The law protects a forum owner only with user-generated content. If you or an employee post the material in question, then the DMCA does not protect you.
This concept makes sense if you think it through. Congress passed the DMCA during the infancy of the commercial Internet – 1998. The government’s goal was to create an environment where businesses could grow online without being held liable for acts by users. For example, the Communications Decency Act providers forums with immunity from defamation claims based on statements made by users.
Congress was only willing to extend this protection so far. If some idiot on your forum or social media site said something egregious, well you shouldn’t be responsible for the statement. Ah, but if you made the statement, well, nobody is going to protect you from yourself.
Ready to roll? Drop us a message to find out more about our DMCA agent service and how we can help you and your forum out.
Other DMCA Articles of Interest: