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In the classic rock song “Light My Fire,” ‘60s icon and the Doors’ lead singer Jim Morrison sang, “The time to hesitate is through.”

If your company operates a website or blog that hosts user-generated content, and has yet to register an agent for receipt of copyright infringement notices under the U.S. Copyright Office’s new agent designation system, it’s time to light a fire. Failure to do so could significantly increase your company’s copyright liability exposure in connection with such hosted content.

Here’s what you need to know:

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s (DMCA) Section 512(c) safe harbor, website operators and other online service providers that comply with the eligibility requirements are shielded from copyright damages in connection with their hosting of infringing content uploaded by service users.

This powerful safe harbor has played a major role in the success of Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and other U.S. social media and Internet sites. But it also protects brands that host on their websites text, photos and videos uploaded by their customers.
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We discussed last year the trend toward companies seeking to monetize user-generated content. A recent Central District of California decision in Greg Young Publishing, Inc. v. Zazzle, Inc. serves as an important reminder of the serious risks that can arise from seeking to commercially exploit such content.

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s (DMCA) Section 512(c) safe harbor, online service providers that comply with the eligibility requirements are shielded from copyright damages in connection with their hosting of infringing content uploaded by service users. This powerful safe harbor has played a major role in the success of Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and other U.S. social media and Internet sites.


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GettyImages-525955707-600pxThe Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently considered in BWP Media USA, Inc. v. T&S Software Associates, Inc. whether volitional conduct is required to establish a claim for direct copyright infringement against an Internet service provider (“ISP”). The defendant ISP, T&S Software Associates (“T&S”), hosted a website that included a public forum called “HairTalk” where users could post content about hair, beauty, and celebrities.

HairTalk users posted photographs of Ke$ha, Julianne Hough, and Ashlee Simpson that were owned by the plaintiffs, BWP Media USA and National Photo Group (“BWP”), without BWP’s authorization. The plaintiffs sued T&S for direct and secondary copyright infringement based on the users’ posts. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of T&S as to both direct and secondary infringement and BWP appealed the judgment as to the direct infringement claim.
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Speedometer_166009527We have been monitoring a trend of cases narrowing the immunity provided to website operators under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA).  A recent decision by a state court in Georgia, however, demonstrates that Section 230 continues to be applied expansively in at least some cases.

The case, Maynard v. McGee, arose from an automobile collision in Clayton County, Georgia.  Christal McGee, the defendant, had allegedly been using Snapchat’s “speed filter” feature, which tracks a car’s speed in real-time and superimposes the speed on a mobile phone’s camera view. According to the plaintiffs, one of whom had been injured in the collision, McGee was using the speed filter when the accident occurred, with the intention of posting a video on Snapchat showing how fast she was driving.  The plaintiffs sued McGee and Snapchat for negligence, and Snapchat moved to dismiss based on the immunity provided by Section 230.

The plaintiffs alleged that Snapchat was negligent because it knew its users would use the speed filter “in a manner that might distract them from obeying traffic or safety laws” and that “users might put themselves or others in harm’s way in order to capture a Snap.” To demonstrate that Snapchat had knowledge, the plaintiffs pointed to a previous automobile collision that also involved the use of Snapchat’s speed filter.  The plaintiffs claimed that “[d]espite Snapchat’s actual knowledge of the danger from using its product’s speed filter while driving at excessive speeds, Snapchat did not remove or restrict access to the speed filter.”
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3D rendering of Copyright Symbol made of transparent glass with Shades and Shadow isolated on white background.

If your company operates a website or blog that hosts user-generated content, you’ll want to read this post carefully.

We’re ringing the alarm bell on an important new U.S. copyright law development that, if ignored, could significantly increase your company’s potential liability exposure in connection with user-generated content.

If your company hosts user-generated content, such hosted content may include materials that were posted without the permission of the owners of the copyrights in such materials—potentially subjecting your company to copyright infringement liability.

For nearly two decades, however, Section 512(c) of the U.S. Copyright Act, enacted in 1998 as part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), has provided a safe harbor insulating online service providers from monetary damages for hosting copyright-infringing materials posted by their users. To receive protection under the Section 512(c) safe harbor, service providers must, among other things, designate an agent to receive notifications of claimed infringement with the Copyright Office.
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