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Website owners facing government-set 'trap'

 

As the Internet rapidly changes the worlds of business, retail sales, news, communications, politics and civil life, the law is still trying to catch up.

Several experts are warning, for example, that the government’s attempts to update copyright law is creating a threat to website owners, according to a report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

A “massive risk of copyright liability” and a “trap for unwary website owners” is how the Electronic Frontier Foundation has described the changes.

The government will require website owners to “re-register” an official designee to respond to copyright issues on their sites, and ongoing registrations now will periodically expire.

It means that “when website owners inevitably forget to renew, copyright holders will be able to take advantage of that mistake to hold them liable for their users’ infringing activities.”

“In fact, it will be trivial for abusive copyright holders to use the Copyright Office’s own system to compile lists of sites at risk,” EFF said.

The issue is that participants in reader forums often post copyrighted material, such as an image or an article.

Under the current law, as part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, website owners are protected from massive monetary liability based on the actions of their users if they meet the law’s requirements, such as accepting notifications of copyright conflicts and taking part in a notice-and-takedown procedure for complaints.

EFF objects to the automatic expirations.

“The change comes as part of a multi-year project to modernize the system for registering authorized agents. Clearly, the system needed an update: the current system of scanned-in documents (PDF) is absurd; a new online database is long overdue,” the group explained. “But as we’ve repeatedly warned the [Copyright] Office, automatic expirations shouldn’t be part of the new system. They’ll do far more harm than good.”

Internet law expert Eric Goldman also is against the updates.

“It’s not like digital data is milk that turns sour if you leave it on the counter overnight,” he protested. “The Copyright Office groused about outdated data in its database, but so what? That problem naturally self-corrects because outdated info will cause service providers to miss official takedown notices and lose the safe harbor anyway.”

He continued, “But if the data hasn’t changed over the years, then there is absolutely zero benefit to requiring the reregistration.”

EFF warned that the little guys will suffer.

“What’s truly frightening about this rule is who it’s likely to affect the most. YouTube and Facebook will be fine. It’s small companies, small nonprofits, and activist groups that are at risk – the same groups that are most poorly poised to fight copyright infringement suits.”

For the rest of this report, and others, please go to Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.