The Designated Agent

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is an eighteen-page law that dealt with many issues of copyright on the Internet. Though much of it is unpopular, including with me, one area that is not generating a lot of controversy, and thus not receiving a great deal of attention, is the requirement that service providers designate an agent to receive complaints of copyright infringement.

The idea is simple enough. That service providers, defined as “an entity offering the transmission, routing, or providing of connections for digital online communications, between or among points specified by a user, of material of a user’s choosing, without modification of the content of the material sent or received,” are required to designate a place for individuals to lodge complaints of copyright infringement and register it with the U.S. Copyright Office and make it publicly available as part of their established “procedures for proper notification.”

It’s a simple idea, but one that is being ignored even seven years after the law was passed.

Though most of your large service provides, Microsoft, Google, Lycos, etc. follow the DMCA to the letter, often with mixed results, many others have practically ignored it. As a result, despite the clear legal requirement there be one, there is no designated agent named and, often times, no way to for victims of copyright infringement to alert administrators of the problem.

While this is annoying for theft victims who often have to wade through abuse systems designed for harassment and pornographic material, it’s dangerous for service providers. This is part of the clause that exempts service providers from being liable in instances of copyright infringement on their servers. Though, to my knowledge, untested, failure to provide such information and such access could result in innocent providers being held liable for damages in court, especially if it hampers the removal of such works in a timely manner.

However, this isn’t something that companies and other service providers should do simply because it’s the law, but because it makes good sense and is good citizenship. It’s just the responsible thing to do.

It never ceases to amaze me how companies will dedicate page after page to their privacy policy, which is definitely important and should get a great deal of attention, but say nothing at all about copyright, despite the requirements to do so.

Then again, with so many sites failing to have an effective terms of service, it’s hardly a shock that copyright falls through the cracks.

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