Lo, the year was 2011 when companies operating online learned the Copyright Office was going to launch an online registration system for DMCA agents to replace the horse and buggy paper registration system then in place. And lo did we wait. And wait. And wait some more. Now, after only five years and what is likely more money spent than one could remotely justify, the magic day is upon us. The Copyright Office is launching the new online DMCA agent registration system on December 1, 2016.
Be still, my beating heart.
The story of the online DMCA agent filing system is one so truly ludicrous that one would be remiss not to mention it before digging into the latest developments. The DMCA was enacted in 1998. The Copyright Office started accepting online filings for copyright matters in 2008, but not DMCA agent registrations – the law that specifically addresses the online copyright environment! Mind you, the “eCO” registration system launched in 2008 covered other copyright filings for online and offline matters, just not the DMCA.
In typical government fashion, the Copyright Office ignored criticism regarding the lack of an online agent filing system until 2011 when it published a notice indicating an online system would soon be available to soothe the frustration of those attempting to use the paper filing system. Despite the fact the paper registration form only consists of one page, the Copyright Office could not get its act together in 20ll.
…or in 2012.
…or in 2013.
…or in 2014.
…or in 2015.
Five years to convert a one-page paper registration form into a digital system. A digital system which already had a database!
Well, the new system fires up on December 1, 2016, so let’s look at what we know so far about the system based on information released by the Copyright Office.
We’re entering the holiday season as I write this post, so let’s start with the good news. Prices are going down, down, down. Whereas the paper form registration system set prices at $140 for up to 10 domains, the new system is lowering the price to $6. Not bad. Not bad at all.
But as they say in late night infomercials, “That’s not all!”
With the new online system, your registration will be added to the online database of agents maintained by the Copyright Office the same day you submit the filing. No longer will companies [and lawyers!] be forced to send in agent registrations by traditional mail, and then wait four to six to eight weeks for the data to appear in the online database. No longer will we have debates over whether the DMCA safe harbor immunity starts when the form is mailed off or when the agent data appears in the online database. That is, indeed, a relief.
In short, the process will be faster and cheaper. Ah, but the powers that be at the Copyright Office couldn’t leave well enough alone and just take a victory lap before their adoring public. Nope. The group that brought you the title “Interim Designation of Agent to Receive Notification of Claimed Infringement” for the form used to register agents under the old system had to go and give small businesses the proverbial middle finger.
If you currently have a registered DMCA agent, the Copyright Office has a message for you – “Take your registration, and shove it.” The agency considers the new system virgin territory, so all companies with agents listed in the old system will be required to re-register using the new system between December 1, 2016 and December 1, 2017. Fail to take this step, and your old registration will be invalidated leaving you without the DMCA safe harbor protection.
If you are thinking the new $6 filing fee sounds too good to be true, you probably did well buying a new car at the dealership. Yes, the Copyright Office giveth and taketh away. While the new filing fee is indeed $6 for up to 10 domains…the fee is only good for three years. Starting December 1, 2016, businesses must renewal DMCA agent registrations every three years. The numbers still work out in your favor compared to the old $140 fee in most cases, but the need to renew every three years is pretty much the definition of annoying. Fire up those online calendars!
Speaking of annoying, the Copyright Office is adding one final twist that will not impact everyone reading this post, but will annoy the hell out of those it does. Both the paper and online registration processes ask companies to list their business address. People working from home have traditionally listed a post office box address. Well, no more. The Copyright Office is requiring applicants to list only “real” addresses with the new system. No post office box addresses or similar services.
The Copyright Office received a good bit of grief when announcing the no-post-office-box policy. Many parties posting comments correctly noted the new policy raised safety issues. After all, should a young lady blogger be forced to list her home address and risk her favorite fan “Lou” showing up at the front door at 3:00 in the morning? The common sense answer is obvious, but the Copyright Office is going in another direction. Individuals wishing to list a post office box address must file a petition seeking permission to do so. So much for the efficient new online system.
The paper registration system for DMCA agents used by the Copyright Office was a nightmare. While the new system contains annoyances, being able to register an agent online for dirt cheap and see the agent information immediately posted in the directory of agents makes the upgrade worth the aggravation.
At least for now.
Once the system is up and running, we may all feel a wee bit differently.
Richard A. Chapo, Esq.