Website owners who are not paying attention could be liable soon for substantial damages for copyright infringement based on a change in the regulations for designating an agent to receive notification of copyright infringement under Section 512(c) of the Copyright Act, enacted as part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (the “DMCA”). A service provider, such as a website, that hosts user-generated content may not be liable for copyright infringement in certain circumstances under the DMCA’s safe harbor. Among the requirements are that the service provider designate a DMCA agent to receive notice of copyright infringement in two places. One place is on the website, generally within the terms and conditions. The other place is with the Copyright Office. The failure to designate an agent in either place will preclude the service provider from receiving the benefit of the DMCA’s safe harbor.
As of December 1, 2016, a new regulation issued by the Copyright Office requires that service providers designate a DMCA agent with the Copyright Office electronically. Previously, service providers designated a DMCA agent with the Copyright Office by filing a paper designation. The paper designations that service providers have previously filed will remain in effect only until December 31, 2017. Furthermore, service providers previously could rely on paper filings for indefinite periods of time. Now service providers must renew their agent designations every three years for the designations to remain valid and for the service providers to be eligible for exemption from copyright infringement liability under the DMCA.