The DMCA is a controversial law. Copyright owners criticize the law as ineffective at stopping widespread copyright infringement. Individuals hate it because sites served with DMCA notices almost always take down posted content without evaluating the merits of the complaint. Whatever your feelings on these topics, as a website owner, you should love the DMCA and take full advantage of the safe harbor provisions provided in the law.
You will expend a good bit of money to protect yourself when operating a business. A properly formed and funded limited liability company or corporation will cost you thousands to set up plus annual maintenance costs, regulatory compliance and tax filings. Liability insurance will cost you thousands more each year. If you allow visitors to post content to your site or app, the DMCA provides just as powerful protection against copyright claims, but at a fraction of the cost of forming a business entity and liability insurance. Given this, we are constantly amazed at how many website owners fail to seek out the protection of the DMCA.
Let’s take a quick look at the protection in question. The DMCA contains a safe harbor provision that reads:
“(1) A service provider shall not be liable for monetary 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-
(i) does not have actual knowledge that the material or an activity using the material on the system or network is infringing;
(ii) in the absence of such actual knowledge, is not aware of facts or circumstances from which infringing activity is apparent; or
(iii) upon obtaining such knowledge or awareness, acts expeditiously to remove, or disable access to, the material;
(B) does not receive a financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing activity, in a case in which the service provider has the right and ability to control such activity; and
(C) upon notification of claimed infringement as described in paragraph (3), responds expeditiously to remove, or disable access to, the material that is claimed to be infringing or to be the subject of infringing activity.”
The highlighted language above essentially means that a website or app [both considered “service providers”] is not liable for copyright infringement for material uploaded by a user of the site. For example, Facebook is not liable if you upload a song to your account for others to listen to. This one section of the DMCA is the reason any user-generated content site can survive on the web. YouTube? Twitter? Vine? Instagram? Facebook? All of these sites would crash and burn under an avalanche of copyright infringement lawsuits if the DMCA safe harbor provisions didn’t exist.
Think about that for a second.
The DMCA essentially provides you with a get out of jail free card for copyright infringement. Few laws carry such weight.
The fascinating thing about the DMCA protection is obtaining it is inexpensive and simple using this process. You can handle compliance on your own using this book. If you need an agent, our service runs a measly $60 a year. You will also need to pay a $140 fee to the United States Copyright Office to register the agent. That’s it. For $200 plus the cost of the book, you gain legal protection from copyright immunity lawsuits that could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and settlements/judgments.
Not to sound like a bad late night info-commercial, but the value of the DMCA safe harbor protection sounds almost too good to be true. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. If you allow visitors to upload anything at all to your website or app, take advantage of the DMCA safe harbor protections.
It will be the best money you’ve ever spent on your online business.