Copyright owners call for overhaul of DMCA takedown notices

Infringers shouldn't be able to repost files again and again to the same website, musicians tell lawmakers

The U.S. Congress needs to overhaul the take-down notice provision in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to make it easier for copyright holders to police infringing uploads of their intellectual property, some advocates told lawmakers.

Copyright holders shouldn't have to go back to a website and ask for repeat take-downs of the same file again and again, musician Maria Schneider told a House of Representatives subcommittee Thursday. The DMCA provision giving websites legal protections for the content users post puts too much of the burden for finding infringing uploads on copyright holders and not on operators of websites and services like YouTube, she said.

"My livelihood is threatened by illegal distribution of my work, and I cannot rein it in," Schneider told the intellectual property subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee. "The DMCA creates an upside-down world in which people can illegally upload my work in a matter of seconds, but I must spend countless hours trying to take it down, mostly unsuccessfully."

Schneider called for websites to implement filtering technologies that would stop infringers from reposting a file after a site has taken it down.

Congress should encourage website and services to enter into new agreements to fix the problem of "relentless reposting" of infringing files, added Sean O'Connor, a musician and law professor at the University of Washington. If an agreement can't be reached, Congress should require websites to remove reposted files or lose their protections from copyright lawsuits, he said.

The current take-down and lawsuit protection provisions of the DMCA foster a "culture of contempt" for copyright, because they discourage websites from monitoring infringement, he added. The millions of take-down notices filed each month are "clearly unsustainable," he said.

Thursday's hearing was one of several the Judiciary Committee has hosted as lawmakers consider whether to revamp the DMCA. Lawmakers are in the early stages of considering changes to the law.

While some witnesses encouraged the committee to give websites more obligations for policing infringing content, others said the takedown and lawsuit protection provisions in the law have generally worked well.

Some lawmakers, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, also called for Congress to deal with abusive take-down notices filed by copyright holders and, in some cases, by people who don't legitimately own copyrights. While bogus take-down notices aren't a huge problem, Congress "should consider ways to reduce such blatant abuse," he said.

The DMCA's copyright lawsuit protections are essential for online services like Yahoo, eBay and YouTube, said Katherine Oyama, senior copyright policy lawyer at Google. The protections have helped create huge growth in Internet services since the DMCA was passed in 1998, she said.

In return, online services have given artists a platform for reaching audiences, she said. "There's never been a more exciting time for creativity on the Internet," Oyama said. "With the Internet as a global distribution platform, more musicians, more filmmakers and artists are creating more content than ever before."

More than 1 million artists and musicians are earning money through YouTube, Oyama said. Many copyright holders, when finding their work posted without permission on YouTube, choose to leave it up and get a percentage of the ad revenue from the videos, she said.

Google has sent more than US$1 billion to the music industry in the last "few years," she added.

Musician Schneider painted a much different picture about her work being posted without permission.

"What's hurting [musicians] is that we are so diluted by being splashed all over the Internet," she said. "We are slowly, as a community, coming to the conclusion that all this exposure is not coming to us in money. Once somebody sees us all over YouTube in a dozen different performances, they aren't coming to our website and buying the record."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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