December 13, 2016 -

New Registration and Periodic Updates Required for Copyright Agents

by Christopher Dodson and Jay Gantz

The U.S Copyright Office has finally arrived at this millennium, offering an easy-to-use online registration system for DMCA Safe Harbor agents.  But upholding the old adage “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” the new system has a few pitfalls for the unwary.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) includes an important provision for online service providers (including website and mobile app publishers), often referred to as the “DMCA Safe Harbor.”  The DMCA Safe Harbor is important because, subject to certain requirements, it limits a provider’s liability for copyright infringement based on the actions of the provider’s users.  This provision is widely credited as playing an important role in creating a legal framework for the online services we take for granted today (from social media services to video and photo sharing sites to comments sections on blogs and news sites) to flourish.

To qualify for protection under the DMCA Safe Harbor, among other things, the provider of online services must register with the U.S. Copyright Office a designated agent, which is simply a representative to whom allegations regarding infringing content should be sent.

The U.S. Copyright Office administers the registered agent database, which has long been painfully antiquated.  Registrations had to be submitted on paper and the fees paid by check. Completed registrations were scanned into non-searchable files and posted on the Copyright Office’s website. Registrations were rarely, if ever, updated.

However, couch potatoes can now rejoice – the Copyright Office recently announced a major overhaul of the registered agent registration process and database which enables online service providers to register and pay for agents online.  This will have a significant impact on the ease of which providers can submit new applications, as well as updates to existing registrations. However, online service providers should be aware of the two material pitfalls of this new system:

  1. The Copyright Office now requires that existing registrations be reapplied for. The entire legacy registration system will be shut down as of December 31, 2017 and any agents that have not been reregistered in the new system will be cancelled. The result will be that website operators will lose the DMCA Safe Harbor protections unless they reregister under the new system by December 31, 2017.
  1. The Copyright Office now also requires that registrations be renewed and updated every three years, to remain valid.

If you are an online service operator and currently have a registered agent, set yourself a calendar reminder to submit a new registration online by December 31, 2017, and make the reminder recur every three years.

If you are an online service operator and do not currently have a registered agent or have questions about the applicability of the DMCA to your business, please do not hesitate to contact us.