In December 2016, the United States Copyright Office introduced an online registration system and electronically generated directory to replace the office’s old paper-based system and directory for filing DMCA agent information. The office no longer accepts paper designations. To designate an agent, a service provider must register with and use the office’s online system.

While the change to an electronic directory is noteworthy, those with existing DMCA agent registrations (filed to the old, paper-based registry) must submit new DMCA agent filings before the end of 2017. Per the US Copyright Office website, any service provider that has designated an agent with the office prior to Dec. 1, 2016, in order to maintain an active designation with the office, must submit a new designation electronically using the online registration system by Dec. 31, 2017. Any designation not made through the online registration system will expire and become invalid after Dec. 31, 2017. Until then, the copyright office will maintain two directories of designated agents: the directory consisting of paper designations made pursuant to the office’s prior interim regulations which were in effect between Nov. 3, 1998, and Nov. 30, 2016 (the old directory), and the directory consisting of designations made electronically through the online registration system (the new directory). During the transition period, a compliant designation in either the old directory or the new directory will satisfy the service provider’s obligation under 17 USC § 512(c)(2) to designate an agent with the copyright office. During the transition period, to search for a service provider’s most up-to-date designation, begin by using the new directory. The old directory should only be consulted if a service provider has not yet designated an agent in the new directory.

As a reminder, the DMCA agent filing is a necessary element of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) safe harbor provision (Title II of the DMCA (the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act)) which shields online service providers from liability for material posted by their users. This is the legal structure through which websites such as YouTube or Facebook avoid liability when a user posts, without authorization, someone else’s song, video, image or other work protected by copyright law.

The DMCA applies not just to YouTube and social media services, but to any website hosting user-generated or submitted content. Accordingly, if your company has an interactive website, chat room, message board or similar functionality, it is important that your business register a DMCA agent and comply with the provisions of the DMCA.

In order to assure your company is in compliance with the DMCA safe harbors, the following steps are necessary:

  1. File a DMCA designated agent submission with the US Copyright Office
  2. Post the DMCA designated agent information online (usually in a website’s terms of use) along with the copyright infringement claim notification procedure
  3. Comply with the notice and takedown procedures
  4. Terminate access to repeat offenders

Complying with the requirements of the DMCA safe harbor provisions is not overly difficult and may save your company from infringement liability.