US Report: New law gives ISPs copyright breach protection

A new federal law came into effect on Tuesday that limits the copyright infringement liability of Internet service providers.

That's good news for ISPs worried about "deep pocket" lawsuits -- but there are two small hitches. First, ISPs have to register in writing with the US Copyright Office in order to receive liability protection; second, the Copyright Office didn't tell ISPs about the new law until this morning.

Association of Online Professionals Executive Director Dave McClure said the late notice was partly due to the fact that President Clinton only signed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which contains the all important limited liability subsection, into law on Oct. 28. Despite the late notice, McClure is delighted that, after three years of lobbying, ISPs have some copyright liability protection. "It's probably the single most important piece of legislation in the history of the Internet," McClure said.

Before Tuesday, an ISP hosting a Web site containing copyrighted material could be sued by the owners of the material even if it had no knowledge of the copyright infringement. As of Tuesday, however, subsection 512(c) of the DMC limits the copyright liability of ISPs so long as they: Designate an "agent" to receive notifications of copyright infringement claims. Register the agent's name and contact information with the Copyright Office (on paper). and Post the agent's contact information on their Web site. McClure said it will cost ISPs $20 to register for limited copyright liability protection.

The new law is currently open for public comment. Once public comments are received, and the law revised, ISPs will have to register a second time for copyright liability protection. McClure said that the AOP would push, during the public comment stage, for registration to be streamlined from a paper-driven to an electronic process. It will also fight to keep registration costs low. "We think [registration costs] should be as little as possible," he said. There's going to be some costs involved in the maintaining of the database, but this should not be a profit generator for the Federal Government," he said.

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