Copyright squared

There’s a new trend afoot to take the “notice” out of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s (DMCA’s) “notice and takedown” procedures:

The company is claiming that the DMCA takedown notice itself is copyrighted and that passing it along will constitute infringement. Of course, this raises some questions.

It does indeed.  For those of you unfamiliar with the DMCA’s notice and takedown procedures, they are a safe harbor that Congress wrote into the DMCA to shield service providers from certain types of copyright infringement suits.  ChillingEffects has this helpful explanation in their FAQ’s:

In order to have an allegedly infringing web site removed from a service provider’s network, or to have access to an allegedly infringing website disabled, the copyright owner must provide notice to the service provider with the following information:

  • The name, address, and electronic signature of the complaining party [512(c)(3)(A)(i)]
  • The infringing materials and their Internet location [512(c)(3)(A)(ii-iii)], or if the service provider is an “information location tool” such as a search engine, the reference or link to the infringing materials [512(d)(3)].
  • Sufficient information to identify the copyrighted works [512(c)(3)(A)(iv)].
  • A statement by the owner that it has a good faith belief that there is no legal basis for the use of the materials complained of [512(c)(3)(A)(v)].
  • A statement of the accuracy of the notice and, under penalty of perjury, that the complaining party is authorized to act on the behalf of the owner [512(c)(3)(A)(vi)].

Once notice is given to the service provider, or in circumstances where the service provider discovers the infringing material itself, it is required to expeditiously remove, or disable access to, the material. The safe harbor provisions do not require the service provider to notify the individual responsible for the allegedly infringing material before it has been removed, but they do require notification after the material is removed.

In his analysis, Mike Masnick notes a few of the problems with claiming copyright protection in DMCA takedown notices, particularly issues of authorship (“who owns the copyright”) and registration (“did whoever write this letter actually register it with the Copyright Office?”).  Of course, there are other problems to consider:

  1. First Amendment.  Do we really live in a world in which individuals can be subjected to legal process but cannot talk about what is happening to them?
  2. Fair use.  Among other things, isn’t the posting of DMCA notices transformative?  Is there any market effect that the law cares about?  Or is this like the proverbial “scathing theater review” that Justice Souter said “kills demand for the original” but “does not produce a harm cognizable under the Copyright Act”?  Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 US 569, 591-92 (1994).

It seems to me that if (1) you’re a copyright owner and (2) you think someone is infringing your rights and (3) you want it to stop but (4) you also want to keep it your little secret and not let anyone else in the world know other than the alleged infringer, then you should maybe reconsider (2), because the fact that you are insisting on (4) may indicate that (2) isn’t actually true.

Just a thought.