New Copyright Agent Directory Takes Effect January 1

As I have written about before, the U.S. Copyright Office has created a new online directory system for the appointment of agents under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The new system takes effect January 1, 2018, which means that any previous appointments will expire and become invalid at that time.

This is an important issue for anyone with a website, because the DMCA provides "service providers" (a broad term that includes "a provider of online services or network access, or the operator of facilities therefor") with protection against claims of copyright infringement.

Specifically, the DMCA allows website publishers to opt into a system that limits their liability (including a complete bar on monetary damages) for publishing works that allegedly infringe someone else's copyright rights.

In general, if a website publisher appoints a DMCA agent at the U.S. Copyright Office, then a copyright owner can submit a "take-down" notice to that agent. Then, if the website publisher "expeditiously" removes the infringing content, it can avoid liability for having published it in the first place.

This system, created in 1998 to encourage the growth of the Internet, works well for both copyright owners (by providing them with a simple system to get infringing content taken down) and website publishers (by providing them with a simple system to avoid litigation).

In the past, the Copyright Office has had a cumbersome process for appointing (and searching for) DMCA agents. The new system is much better -- but, importantly, it replaces the old system. So, if you appointed an agent under the old system, you must appoint (and renew every three years) an agent (and pay a minimal $6 fee) under the new system to retain the DMCA protections.

It's a simple but very important process.

Who can serve as a DMCA agent? Specifically, the DMCA defines an "agent" as:

an individual (e.g., “Jane Doe”), a specific position or title held by an individual (e.g., “Copyright Manager”), a specific department within the service provider's organization or within a third-party entity (e.g., “Copyright Compliance Department”), or a third-party entity generally (e.g., “ACME Takedown Service”). Only a single agent may be designated for each service provider.

Many service providers appoint a lawyer or law firm to serve as their service provider's agent under the DMCA.