Copyright Claims Based on User Content

In 1998, Congress passed a controversial law known as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Through the DMCA, Congress attempted to adapt U.S. copyright law to the challenges posed by digital technologies and the online environment. Although the DMCA as a whole extended the reach of copyright law and is generally regarded as favoring the interests of copyright owners, it also created provisions limiting the liability of certain online actors. Section 512 of the DMCA, 17 U.S.C. § 512, contains the DMCA's "safe-harbor" provisions for online service providers. These safe harbor provisions shield online service providers, like ISPs, hosting providers, search engines, and website operators, from copyright infringement claims made against them based on the conduct of their customers or users. To take advantage of the safe-harbor provisions, online service providers need to implement "notice-and-takedown" procedures that call for expeditious removal of content upon receipt of a formally valid takedown notice from a copyright owner. The DMCA's notice-and-takedown procedures could impact your online publishing work in a variety of ways:

If you operate a website that hosts user content, you should consider implementing these procedures and taking the administrative steps required to enjoy safe-harbor protection. You are not legally required to do so, but it may help you avoid copyright infringement liability. The three main things you need to do to take advantage of the safe-harbor provisions are (1) designate a copyright agent to receive takedown notices; (2) adopt and communicate to users an effective "copyright infringement policy"; and (3) properly comply with takedown notices when received. For details, on please see Protecting Yourself Against Copyright Claims Based on User Content.

Alternatively, your content may be the target of a DMCA takedown notice sent to someone else. For example, a copyright owner might send a takedown notice to your hosting provider complaining that you are posting copyright infringing material and asking the hosting provider to remove or disable access to it. Or, a copyright owner might send a takedown notice to YouTube or another video-hosting service demanding that a video you uploaded be taken down. (Our database is filled with examples of this -- Universal Music Group v. Malkin, Creation Science Evangelism v. Rational Response Squad, U.S. Air Force v. Wired/Threat Level, to name but a few). Less commonly, you might even post something in user comments on another blog or website that elicits a takedown notice. The DMCA gives online service providers, like your hosting service, YouTube, and other website operators, an incentive to take down your material when someone sends a notice complaining about it, but it also enables you to send a "counter-notifice" to get your material put back up. Sending a counter-notice may result in the copyright owner suing you, so you will want to be sure that you are not infringing the complaining party's copyright before sending a counter-notice. For details on what to do if your content is the target of a takedown notice, see Responding to a DMCA Takedown Notice Targeting Your Content.

Finally, if you discover that someone else is copying or using your work in a way that doesn't look like fair use, such as by reprinting entire articles or posts without your permission, then you may want to consider sending a takedown notice of your own. For details on this and other strategies for protecting your work online, see Protecting Your Copyrighted Work Online.


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