If you have a website or app that includes user-generated or user-submitted content, you are vulnerable to a lawsuit from the copyright owners of that content. This applies to all social media sites/apps and any apps/sites with public forums or other types of user content. The U.S. Copyright Act provides for statutory damages of up to $150,000.00 per infringement. The good news is that you are shielded from all such liability under the “Safe Harbor” provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) – as long as you comply with all of the necessary provisions, including registration. In this post, I’ll explain how the registration process works.
The DMCA’s safe harbor provisions can protect your company from liability for the copyright infringements of your users and for linking to copyright-infringing material from other online sources, but there are certain qualifications. You need effective “notice-and-takedown” procedures, you must promptly remove content when a copyright owner notifies you that it is infringing, and you must not have actual or effective knowledge that the material in question is infringing.
You also need to register a DMCA Designated Agent with the U.S. Copyright Office. If you don’t have a DMCA Designated Agent, you don’t have safe harbor protection, and you can be sued for every copyright infringement by a user on your site and for every link to copyright-infringing material.
You can register the Designated Agent for your company, website, or app by going to this link. Or you can have an attorney or another service do it for you.
Unfortunately, the system can be somewhat confusing. You essentially need to fill out three separate forms, registering a contact for the Copyright Office, a Representative for the Service Provider (the Service Provider is you or your company), and, finally, the DMCA Designated Agent itself. Those can all be the same person, but the forms don’t make that very clear.
How much does it cost? Here’s some more good news. The U.S. Copyright Office does charge a fee for this registration, but the fee is only $6.00.
When does it need to be updated? The DMCA registration needs to be amended when the information (such as the company’s address) changes. It also needs to be renewed every three years.
The bottom line: if your site or app has any type of user-generated or user-submitted content, you need to have your DMCA Designated Agent registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. If you don’t get around to doing this, you could be sued for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars even if you were unaware of or had nothing to do with the copyright infringements. So it’s worth the $6 filing fee and a bit of time to complete this form. If you’re not sure how the process works, an IP attorney can help.
Not sure if your site is protected? Contact me.