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'Safe harbors' limit IP liability for online providers if …

Twenty years ago, the United States joined a caravan of nations entering the internet age. It did this by passing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Depending on what role you play in the online world, this law may be the bane of your existence or a godsend for securing intellectual property rights within the World Wide Web.

Copyrights are an integral part of the intellectual property landscape. And the DMCA seeks to ensure creators of original literature, art, software and more continue to enjoy ownership rights in the digital environment. At the same time, provisions in the law have triggered an explosion of portals through which information is widely distributed online by providing "safe harbors" to online service providers against infringement liability claims, but they require solid compliance.

The 4 harbors

Title II of the DMCA is the relevant law. What it does is establish four situations under which online providers avoid monetary liability for copyright infringement. To invoke protection, the provider must show it met all the requirements of one of the harbors.

  1. Conduit: In this scenario, the provider can claim protection by showing that all it did in handling of copyrighted material was to transmit, route or provide connections to the information through its systems.
  2. Caching: Web browsing by nature involves users caching copies of websites and their associated codes. Some courts have ruled that in some instances this amounts to copyright infringement. However, under Title II, providers are given a pass on infringement liability for caching often-visited sites on their servers as a way to manage internet traffic.
  3. Takedown: Infringement can happen. However, if a provider is notified of another user's infringement by a copyright older, it can claim liability protection by swiftly removing the offending material. The law stipulates that the shield only applies if the provider has a designated agent registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.
  4. Referral tools:This protects a provider if a user is redirected to copyrighted material through a referral tool such as a directory or index and the provider had no knowledge of the infringing action.

There is one other provision that each harbor calls for. Service providers must block users who repeatedly infringe on copyrights

Infringement of copyrights on the internet continue despite 20 years under the DMCA. And it's by working with skilled attorneys that digital actors can best manage possible legal dust-ups.

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