Question: Why does a web host, blogging service provider, or search engine get DMCA takedown notices?
Answer: Many copyright claimants are making complaints under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Section 512(c)'s safe-harbor for hosts of "Information Residing on Systems or Networks At Direction of Users" or Section 512(d)'s safe-harbor for providers of "Information Location Tools." These safe harbors give providers immunity from liability for users' possible copyright infringement -- if they "expeditiously" remove material when they get complaints. Whether or not the provider would have been liable for infringement by users' materials it hosts or links to, the provider can avoid the possibility of a lawsuit for money damages by following the DMCA's takedown procedure when it gets a complaint. The person whose information was removed can file a counter-notification if he or she believes the complaint was erroneous.
Question: What does a service provider have to do in order to qualify for safe harbor protection?
Answer: In addition to informing its customers of its policies, a service provider must follow the proper notice and takedown procedures and also meet several other requirements in order to qualify for exemption under the safe harbor provisions.
In order to facilitate the notification process in cases of infringement, ISPs which allow users to store information on their networks, such as a web hosting service, must designate an agent that will receive the notices from copyright owners that its network contains material which infringes their intellectual property rights. The service provider must then notify the Copyright Office of the agent's name and address and make that information publicly available on its web site. [512(c)(2)]
Finally, the service provider must not have knowledge that the material or activity is infringing or of the fact that the infringing material exists on its network. If it does discover such material before being contacted by the copyright owners, it is instructed to remove, or disable access to, the material itself. The service provider must not gain any financial benefit that is attributable to the infringing material.
Question: What are the provisions of 17 U.S.C. Section 512(c)(3) & 512(d)(3)?
Answer: Section 512(c)(3) sets out the elements for notification under the DMCA. Subsection A (17 U.S.C. 512(c)(3)(A)) states that to be effective a notification must include: 1) a physical/electronic signature of a person authorized to act on behalf of the owner of the infringed right; 2) identification of the copyrighted works claimed to have been infringed; 3) identification of the material that is claimed to be infringing or to be the subject of infringing activity and that is to be removed; 4) information reasonably sufficient to permit the service provider to contact the complaining party (e.g., the address, telephone number, or email address); 5) a statement that the complaining party has a good faith belief that use of the material is not authorized by the copyright owner; and 6) a statement that information in the complaint is accurate and that the complaining party is authorized to act on behalf of the copyright owner. Subsection B (17 U.S.C. 512(c)(3)(B)) states that if the complaining party does not substantially comply with these requirements the notice will not serve as actual notice for the purpose of Section 512.
Section 512(d)(3), which applies to "information location tools" such as search engines and directories, incorporates the above requirements; however, instead of the identification of the allegedly infringing material, the notification must identify the reference or link to the material claimed to be infringing.
Question: Does a service provider have to follow the safe harbor procedures?
Answer: No. An ISP may choose not to follow the DMCA takedown process, and do without the safe harbor. If it would not be liable under pre-DMCA copyright law (for example, because it is not contributorily or vicariously liable, or because there is no underlying copyright infringement), it can still raise those same defenses if it is sued.