Is your library an Internet Service Provider (ISP)?
Title II of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (the "DMCA") limits the liability of internet service providers ("ISP") for certain infringements. Congress clearly intended this new law to protect large ISPs like AT&T. It also clearly protects universities that provide internet services to their students, faculty and staff. The definition of a "service provider" is so broad, however, that it includes public libraries that do no more than make available to the public a computer connected to the internet. Here's part of the definition of "service provider" from the statute:
(k)(1)(B) As used in the section, other than subsection (a), the term "service provider" means a provider of online services or network access, or the operator of facilities therefore, and includes an entity described in subparagraph (A).
The important words are "a provider of online services or network access." That's pretty broad. This is not necessarily bad news, though -- it means libraries have a choice.
The DMCA gives ISPs some protection from the usual remedies that a copyright owner is entitled to when their rights have been infringed. For example, a copyright owner whose rights have been infringed can ask the court to award it a lot of money - either actual damages or statutory damages, depending on whether the infringer knew good and well that what they were doing was wrong, or was truly unaware and had good reason to think the infringing actions were authorized as a fair use. Copyright owners are also entitled to certain kinds of injunctions: court orders that bar the infringer from carrying out actions in the future that would create similar problems for the copyright owner or others. The DMCA takes away from copyright owners most of these remedies on the condition that ISPs agree to help the copyright owner get infringing works off the web as quickly as possible. In effect, it creates a different way other than lawsuits for copyright owners and ISPs to handle alleged infringements involving materials passing through or residing on ISP's network servers.
There is no requirement that an entity entitled to take advantage of these liability limitations must take advantage of them, either in general, or even after the entity has registered an agent. Compliance with the statute's provisions is completely voluntary. Even AT&T could ignore this statute if it wanted to. The steps for taking advantage of the limitations are somewhat cumbersome. It may not be worth all the trouble if the benefit is very small. So, let's explore the benefits and the process of complying with the statute, so it's possible to weigh the two and decide whether to register as an ISP, and whether to follow the statute's procedures to take advantage of the liability limitations in a particular case.
The DMCA provides liability limitations for the following kinds of activities:
So, will this benefit you? That will vary depending on the extent of the services an ISP provides and the type and numbers of users of those services. For example, a small library that provides the public with access to the internet at one or more computer terminals probably does not provide server space to its patrons. That's one of the most important categories of protection, so if you don't need it, it's probably a waste of time to comply with the statute's requirements. If the library has its own server with a homepage on which it provides links to external resources, it is beginning to do things for which it could benefit under section (d) of the law.
Whether or not to register an agent and comply with DMCA involves reducing the risk of legal liability, so good candidates to make the decision would be your library's risk managers or legal department and your administrators who oversee fiscal responsibilities. You may also need technical support, someone who understands and can identify the activities covered by the DMCA that the library is undertaking.
Questions to guide decision making
Does your library:
If you can answer yes to the last two bullets, your activities are covered by the parts of DMCA that require you to register an agent, so you may benefit from registering an agent, and training the agent to respond appropriately to notices alleging infringement. If you can only answer yes to the first four bullets, your activities are not among those that the DMCA explicitly requires registering an agent in order to obtain the law's protections and you are unlikely to derive any benefit from registering an agent.
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