Copyright Considerations for Web Hosts
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The lawsuit filed recently by Viacom against Google alleging copyright infringement for many of the videos available for viewing on YouTube should be of more than academic interest to web hosts. You may believe you’re protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 if one of your customers commits copyright infringement, but that protection is not automatic.
The truth is that there are certain steps you need to take to show that you've been appropriately diligent and that your intentions are good. Remember MGM's lawsuit against peer-to-peer file sharing site Grokster? It went all the way to the Supreme Court, where Grokster ended up losing the case. The court found that a distributor of a device capable of copyright infringement CAN be held liable for the resulting infringement if the distributor encouraged that use.
If you don't want to be seen as encouraging copyright infringement, you need to respond promptly when such issues are brought to your attention. The section of the DMCA that is most relevant to web hosts is 512. Yes, it's a bit long, and it's in legalese (but still fairly readable). I'd strongly recommend that any web host read it all the way through and make sure that he or she understands it. Among other things, it talks about the conditions a web host must satisfy to be considered exempt from liability for copyright infringement.
Before I go into what you need to do to protect yourself under the "safe harbor" provisions of the DMCA, I'd like to address some of the misconceptions that may be circulating among your customers (and even your staff!) about copyright. The laws do vary in different countries. I'll be addressing U.S. law here.
First let me mention what isn't protected: names, titles, slogans, or ideas. The creative expression of ideas IS protected, however, which is why you see so many different articles covering the same topics both online and offline. And there is no real difference between a work that is published online and one that is published offline, at least in the eyes of copyright law. Never mind that the online work is easier to copy; that doesn't make it right - or legal.
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