The millennium may feel like ancient history now, but the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has only become more relevant since it was passed in 1998. Back then, the DMCA was welcomed by internet service providers such as AOL, AT&T and Prodigy for providing a copyright “safe harbor.” By following the DMCA, internet providers could avoid copyright infringement liability for content posted by a user.

Fast forward to today, when most businesses have websites and modern sites aspire to be “interactive,” “engaging,” “connective” and “social.” Including a blog or other platform for users to post messages, photos and other content may be a fine way to accomplish these goals. It is also a fine way to expose your business to claims from copyright owners that a user has posted infringing content on your site. Congratulations, you have now joined the ranks of web hosts such as Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and many others. You have the same exposure to potential copyright infringement claims from user content and you have the same avenue to protect against these claims under the DMCA.

DMCA protection isn’t automatic, however. It requires these three important steps:

  1. Designate a DMCA agent with the US Copyright Office to receive notice of copyright infringement claims. The Copyright Office fee is currently $105 for the first name and $35 for up to 10 additional names (e.g., for multiple sites). Remember to update the filing if your business moves or any other information provided on the form changes. Find the form here.
  2. Provide clear instructions on your site that meet DMCA requirements for informing users about how to send a DMCA take-down notification to your DMCA agent. These can be included in a registered user agreement, in your website terms of use (a/k/a terms of service) or as a separate document that is easily found by a user.
  3. Rigorously monitor the DMCA agent email, snail mail and other contact avenues that you identified in your DMCA agent designation. When you receive a takedown notification, you must act “expeditiously” to remove the allegedly infringing material and notify the user who posted the content. The DMCA provides a mechanism for each party (the user and the requester) to respond in turn. You will not act as judge or jury in this matter, but it is important that you perform your communication responsibilities under the DMCA promptly and correctly.

If your business hosts a blog or allows users to post content on your website, careful compliance with the DMCA can provide an effective safe harbor against claims that user-posted content infringes copyright owned by someone else.