EFF Warns New Obstacles Being Placed on Internet Safe Harbour

It is becoming increasingly difficult to run a legitimate website. The Electronic Frontier Foundation says it could only get even more difficult.

Owning and operating a website is a pretty difficult thing. There’s the registering of domains, securing reliable hosting, fighting spam, and finding ways of breaking through from the crowd. That’s just the beginnings. In the US, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) places whole lot of additional regulations just to qualify for so-called “safe-harbour” provisions.

Originally, safe harbour provisions merely meant that if you are not actively promoting copyright infringement, then you are simply a neutral entity. You are not responsible if users decide to misuse your website for copyright infringement. Unfortunately, over the years, through the copyright review process, rights holders have been placing increasingly complex and expensive restrictions just to qualify for those same provisions.

Right now, if you are a US website that accepts user generated content, you need to register an agent with the copyright office. That agent is responsible for receiving so-called DMCA notices. For rights holders, that apparently isn’t enough. They then added that websites must renew their agent every three years. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has already come out against the move, saying that there is no reason for this requirement.

Rightsholders more recently said that even this is not enough. They also called for websites to install expensive content filtering technology. That move prompted a response that says this does little more than curb competition. The filters being requested are similar to the heavily criticized Content ID filter on YouTube. That system simply doesn’t recognize legal fair use which protects criticism, education, and journalism to name a few. If you are using a clip from a song during a lecture, YouTube can flag and remove the content even though the use is perfectly legal.

The EFF is now raising awareness about the issue, saying the following:

Requiring filters as a condition of safe harbor protections would make it much more difficult for smaller web platforms to get off the ground. Automated filtering technology is expensive—and not very good. Even when big companies use them, they’re extremely error-prone, causing lots of lawful speech to be blocked or removed.

Besides, no computer can understand the human context that goes into determining whether a given use of a copyrighted work is a fair use. Requiring websites to monitor uploads more restrictively would result in legitimate uses of copyrighted works being pushed off the Internet.

If you run a website or app that stores material posted by users, then don’t wait. Register (or re-register) a DMCA agent through the Copyright Office’s online system today. Then, whether you own a website or not, sign our letter to the Copyright Office telling them why the safe harbors are vital protection for Internet users, and asking them not to impose new obstacles.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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