Digital Copyrights

Copyright_symbol2Silicon Flatirons hosted Fred von Lohmann, a senior attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation who gave an outstanding presentation on Digital Copyrights specifically the 1998 Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act. I have to admit that being in the User Generated Content business I should have known more about these “Safe Harbors” adopted in 1998 that protect internet service providers like The law protects service providers on the Internet from the liability that may be caused by the activities of its users.  Basically it protects us from the bad behaviors of some of our users. I also enjoyed Fred’s optimistic outlook on copyright law and how the law has left the door open for the disruptive innovation that we all love.

Stat-ups should keep in mind that copyright protection is very important to both the corporations we establish and the officers who run them because you can’t hide behind your “corporate veil” in a Copyright lawsuit (good to know). This protection doesn’t mean you’re not going to get sued however if you’re running a legitimate business and playing by the rules you should have lots of protection with these safe harbors. However if you think your stepping on some copyrights it’s best to get a good copyright lawyer on board early. Investors don’t want to buy a lawsuit they want to buy a company.

It was interesting to hear about how the large Tele-com companies back in the late 90’s were able to buy the best Copyright protection through their powerful lobbyist at the time, that’s why their section on Digital Transmission, 512.a, is so short compared to the rest of the sections. Anyway, as for the rest of us working with User Generated Content and Search you can visit your safe harbors in paragraph 512.c and 512.d.

Here are some good things to keep in mind:

– Fred talked about how the courts look for companies to terminate repeat offenders. All companies should have strong Termination Policy that take down repeat offenders within 24-48hrs. This is one of those things the courts have decided is very important! Also don’t forget to keep good records showing that your firm takes copyright infringement seriously. Use the 2 strikes and you’re out rule.

– It was also good to hear that the service providers general knowledge that users may be using the service to infringe on the copyrights of others is not enough to win a law suite, at least not yet.

– Services providers also do not have the obligation to monitor the content however they must move quickly on addressing copyright infringement claims. Some of the large companies are installing content filters to both show they are serious about copyrights and also probably to save some time and money on the back end.

Even though some of the media industry has had to re-invent their business models the 1998 law is proving to be effective. We’re starting to see service providers negotiate with copyright holders in ad sharing revenue exchanges (win-win). There has been a ton of innovation over the past 10+ years and the amount of money and investments made in the internet space is evidence that the digital copyright issue is not as bad as you may have thought.