Forums and the DMCA

Long before the Facebooks of the world appeared, there were message boards and forums where like minded people could meet to exchange information and bash each other! As copyright laws slowly evolved to apply to the web, the relationship between forums and the DMCA has become one forum owners must know and understand thoroughly.

The DMCA

“DMCA” is an abbreviation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This law was passed in 1998 in an effort to establish parameters for applying copyright law to this wonderful new venture known as the Internet.

The new law was passed because a conflict was building between traditional copyright law and the virtual community sites found on the web. The primary problem was you might have an online site with 25,000 members who uploaded items such as songs from time to time. The music industry responded by suing the parties uploading the content, but this was problematic since 15 year olds rarely had 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 sued in this manner simply went bankrupt. Fearing a severe limitation being placed on communications on 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? If a forum allows third parties to upload content, then the DMCA is applicable. If you own, work for or run a forum, you should know this is actually a good thing. How so? You need to understand the benefits of the DMCA for forums. Yes, I said benefits.

Here is the secret regarding the DMCA. It 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 is important, 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 changes of this occurring are next to none.

Purpose of DMCA

You have undoubtedly read endless criticisms written online regarding the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. These criticisms are misplaced because the people writing them 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 when they were buried under a tidal wave of copyright infringement sites. With the DMCA in place, they are provided with immunity from liability and go on functioning.

Protect Yourself

Every forum should be complying with the DMCA. A forum failing to do so can be held liable for any copyright infringement acts of its members. A forum complying with the Act, on the other hand, doesn’t have to worry about the issue.

If you own a forum and have questions regarding the DMCA, contact me today for a free consultation. Complying with the Act is really not very difficult, particularly when you consider the fact copyright infringement claims can come with damage claims as high as $150,000 per infringement.

Richard A. Chapo, Esq.