Long before the Facebooks of the world appeared, there were message boards and forums where like-minded people could meet to exchange information…and defame each other. As copyright laws slowly evolved to apply to the web, the relationship between forums and the DMCA has become a legal issue you must understand when running a forum.
“DMCA” is an abbreviation for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The legislation establishes parameters for applying copyright law to the Internet.
The new law was passed because a conflict was building between traditional copyright law and Internet community sites. Members of online communities were uploading copyrighted content without authorization. The music industry responded with a wave of lawsuits, but this proved problematic since 15-year-olds rarely have the money to pay any judgments.
Copyright holders responded to this problem by suing the sites in addition to the person posting the content. Most sites went bankrupt. Fearing the stagnation of the web, Congress passed the DMCA and President Clinton signed it into law. Al Gore did not try to take credit for it.
Applicability to Forums
Does the DMCA apply to forums? Yes. The applicability is a positive for online website operators. The DMCA protects sites allowing user-generated content from copyright infringement lawsuits claiming monetary damages so long as the site follows certain requirements in the Act.
This protection is critical, so let me repeat it. If a forum complies with the DMCA, it cannot be sued for monetary damages based on a copyright infringement claim. A copyright holder can move for an injunction against the forum, but the chances of this occurring are next to none.
Purpose of DMCA
You have undoubtedly read endless criticisms written online regarding the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. People voicing these criticisms do not understand the purpose of the DMCA. The purpose is not to protect people posting infringing on the copyrighted content of others or copyright holders. The purpose of the Act is to protect websites.
Take a moment to picture the Internet if there were no DMCA. Would YouTube exist? No. Would Facebook exist? No. Would Twitter exist? No. Would your forum exist? No. Why? Each of these sites would have gone bankrupt long ago thanks to a tidal wave of copyright infringement sites. With the DMCA in place, they are provided with immunity from liability and go on functioning.
Every forum should comply with the DMCA. Doing so is the equivalent of buying insurance against the threat of an infringement lawsuit. The cost of compliance is much lower than insurance premiums as well.
If you own a forum and have questions regarding the DMCA, contact me today for a free consultation. Complying with the Act is not very difficult, particularly when you consider the fact copyright infringement claims can come with damage claims as high as $150,000 per infringement. We even offer a DMCA agent service to make things easier.
Richard A. Chapo, Esq.
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