The Copyright Office launched a new online DMCA Agent registration system on December 1, 2016. While the new system has gone through some growing pains, it represents a vast improvement over the old paper application process that took months. However, many companies, particularly small businesses, are finding the new regulations come with some unfortunate surprises. One ugly surprise is businesses registering an agent must list their “real” business address in the online database as well as on their site or app. That’s right. You can no longer use a post office box or similar service as the business address, which so many people working from home have done in the past.
The new business address regulations are problematic, to say the least. The last thing you want is to open the door to find a “fan” on your doorstep or look through the window to see Mr. Creepy standing on the sidewalk staring at your home.
The Copyright Office’s response to these rather obvious concerns?
Buy a taser!
At this point, the Copyright Office appears beholden to large copyright owners and interest groups. What those groups want, they get. Small business owners and people working on their own are left with the crumbs – your safety be damned!
In this case, the crumbs consist of a petition process in which you can request permission to use a post office box instead of providing Captain Rapist with your home address. How does one file such a petition? The Copyright Office provides guidance.
Q. Are there any circumstances under which I can provide a P.O. Box for the service provider’s address?
Answer: Yes, but only with prior approval of the Copyright Office, which will only be given upon written request and in exceptional circumstances, such where there is a demonstrable threat to an individual’s personal safety or security, such that it may be dangerous to publicly publish a street address where such individual can be located. To obtain a waiver, the service provider must send a signed letter, addressed to the “U.S. Copyright Office, Office of the General Counsel” and sent to the address for time-sensitive requests set forth in 37 C.F.R. 201.1(c)(1), containing the following information: (1) the name of the service provider; (2) the post office box address that the service provider wishes to use; (3) a detailed statement providing the reasons supporting the request, with explanation of the specific threat(s) to an individual’s personal safety or security; and (4) an email address and/or physical mail address for any responsive correspondence from the Office. There is no fee associated with making this request. If the request is approved, the service provider may display the post office box address on its website and will receive instructions from the Office as to how to complete the Office’s electronic registration process. Please note that this only applies to a service provider’s address. A waiver is not necessary to provide a post office box for a designated agent’s address.
What the hell is “37 C.F.R. 201.1(c)(1)?” It refers to a section of the Code of Federal Regulations. Don’t worry. We hunted the section down for you. You can view it here. We aren’t listing the address here because you never know when it might change in the future, and we refuse to read the Code of Federal Regulations every week to check for updates! Frankly, we’d rather read the tax code.
Okay, so let’s apply the standard to a real world scenario. You are a female programmer who runs a site with a forum. 99 percent of forum participants are well-adjusted human beings. As any forum owner can tell you, there is another one percent that probably could use some nap time in Guantanamo. The Copyright Office either doesn’t understand this concept or simply can’t be bothered to give a damn, so you are forced to list your home address on both the forum and online database of agents maintained by the Copyright Office. Now imagine one of your “one percenters” gets into a dispute with another person on the forum, pops onto the DMCA Policy page, and decides to travel to the business address to complain.
Not only does this person now know where you live, but it is highly unlikely this person will be keeping the information to themselves. To understand the full scope of potential harassment this scenario could lead to, read this overview of what happen to a female gamer.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this situation is it doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of forcing people to cough up their home addresses for public consumption, the Copyright Office could use the approach taken by states with business entities. States allow a small business to designate a person to receive legal service of lawsuits and subpoenas, which is what this is really about. Copyright owners want to force people registering for the DMCA to list an address where they can be served with copyright infringement lawsuits. The penalty for registering a “fake” person would be termination of the agent designation. Everyone wins without anyone being put at personal risk.
Can we expect the Copyright Office to change its policy? Yes. Unfortunately, it will likely only be after something horrible happens to an individual because a predator was able to find their location using the DMCA agent database maintained by the Copyright Office.
What a pity.