Easy To Do, Frequently Missed: Limiting Your Liability for Online Content

It is a fact of life that companies frequently write their own terms of use and privacy policies rather than using an attorney.  Time and money are always short, and these things would seem easy to do.  After all, plenty of websites have examples that other lawyers have pored over.  Why not just adapt that work?  Here’s one thing you may miss. 

Many website terms of use have a reference to what happens when your site ends up displaying someone else’s copyrighted work.  The terms of use have a section that gives a name, address and contact information where notices of infringement, called a “takedown notices,” are to be sent.  These notices are an attempt to comply with a safe harbor protection under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).  Generally, if you react appropriately to a takedown notice, the DMCA safe harbor can shield you from copyright claims related to third party content.     What isn’t on most terms of use is a reference to another requirement in order to gain the benefit of the DMCA safe harbor.  You must register with the U.S. Copyright Office.  This registration form has to be one of the easiest forms you’ll ever see from the United States government.  You can find what is required here.  Fill out the form, pay the fee, and you have satisfied this requirement.

Editor: Paul H. Arne