ALERT: Today’s Congressional Hearing on Copyright Enforcement on the Internet

Today, at 12:00pm EST, the House Committee on the Judiciary is holding a live hearing, where they will discuss the Copyright Office’s Report on the Efficacy of 17 U.S.C. §512 over the past twenty years.

The hearing is supposed to be an engaging discussion on Copyright and the internet in 2020. The hearing will call six different witnesses to testify, and they are:

  • Jeffrey Sedlik, President & CEO of PLUS Coalition
  • Meredith Rose, Senior Policy Counsel of Public Knowledge
  • Morgan Grace Kibby, Singer and Songwriter
  • Jonathan Band, Counsel from the Library Copyright Alliance
  • Matthew Schruers, President of the  Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA)
  • Terrica Carrington, Vice President, Legal Policy and Copyright Counsel of the Copyright Alliance.

17 U.S.C. §512, for those who don’t understand legal speak, is simply a designation to Section 512 of Title 17 of the United States Code. Title 17 is the section of the U.S. Code that’s dedicated to Copyrights, and Section 512 (which can be found in chapter five of Title 17) contains the regulations regarding “limitations on liability relating to material online.”

The report from the Copyright Office in question is the Section 512 Study that the Copyright Office released on May 21, 2020. The purpose of the study was to “evaluate the impact and effectiveness of the safe harbor provisions contained in section 512 of title 17, United States Code,” making its study “the first government study of the effectiveness of the notice-and-takedown system since its enactment over twenty years ago.” There are five important principles that guided the Copyright Office’s analysis of the section 512 system, and they are:

  • Online copyright protection must be meaningful and effective;
  • Online service providers that operate in good faith must be afforded legal certainty and leeway to innovate;
  • Congress intended to incentivize cooperation between online service providers and copyright holders, but cooperation cannot be the only answer;
  • Government decision-making should be based on evidence, to the extent possible; and
  • Internet policy in the twenty-first century cannot be one-size-fits-all.

Section 512 was enacted in 1998 as part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). It established a system for copyright owners and online entities to address instances of copyright infringement that took place over the internet, and included a  limitation of liability for compliant service providers in order to help foster the growth of internet-based services.

According to the Copyright Office, “Congress intended for copyright owners and internet service providers to cooperate to detect and address copyright infringements. To qualify for protection from infringement liability, a service provider must fulfill certain requirements, generally consisting of implementing measures to expeditiously address online copyright infringement.”

The Copyright Office came to several conclusions at the end of its analysis, and they are that:

  • The operation of the section 512 safe harbor system today is unbalanced.
  • There are certain areas where the current implementation of section 512 is out of sync with Congress’ original intent, including: (1) eligibility qualifications for the service provider safe harbors; (2) repeat infringer policies; (3) knowledge requirement standards; (4) specificity within takedown notices; (5) non-standard notice requirements; (6) subpoenas, and; (7) injunctions.
  • Congress may wish to fine-tune section 512’s current operation in order to better balance the rights and responsibilities of online service providers and copyright holders in the creative industries.

If you work primarily online, and deal with the potential for copyright infringement / copyright claims, it would definitely be in your interest to pay attention to this hearing.

If you’d like to read the full report of the Copyright Office, you can check it out here.

If you want to watch the hearing, you can view it as it streams live on Youtube right here.

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