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Website Copyright Violations: How Will Web Hosts Respond?

Copyright violations aren’t anything new under the digital sun, but measures taken by Russia will most certainly strike an unfamiliar chord across the world. Starting in May of 2015, any website in Russia found guilty of multiple copyright violations will be permanently blocked in Russia. In an unrelated measure to fight Internet piracy in Russia, intellectual property rights holders will have to be paid a fee by the country’s communications operators for universal licenses and unlimited utilization of Internet content. Even if you aren’t a web host in Russia, this decision is sure to cause a ripple effect across the globe. Educate and prepare yourself now so that you’ll be able to ride the waves of change with ease.

 Russian Reform

Russia’s new crackdown on copyrighted material is part of the country’s new bill aimed at anti-piracy. Once a website found to be in violation of the law has been blocked, there’s no way that it can be unblocked. So far, the biggest issue with the measure is from Internet freedom activists who believe that the bill is biased toward rights holders. To make matters worse, it doesn’t have to be confirmed that the site is in violation of copyright, merely being suspected is enough for the site to be permanently blocked. The bill includes everything from books and music to software, but does not include photographs.

There was an earlier bill that included the same measures, but it wasn’t very effective in preventing online piracy, and there are those who believe that the new bill will achieve just as much. New amendments to the bill will also require that the owners of websites include their real name, physical address and email address directly on their websites.

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You may be wondering why Russia is going to such great lengths to prevent copyright violations. The reason is that the country is considered to be the absolute worst for having copyright offenders. Currently, there are roughly 70,000 Russian websites that have been blacklisted, but a majority of them are simply suffering from the fallout of poorly conceived blacklisting measures.

Paying Your Dues 

Russia’s anti-piracy fee will have to be paid by communication operators in order to obtain a universal license for the standard content (books, music, movies, etc), but not for compiled works or software. With the new fee, it’s estimated that royalties will range anywhere from three to five American dollars per subscriber every year, which totals to anywhere between approximately $200,000,000 and $600,000,000 each year.

While the anti-piracy fee will release users from all liability involved with piracy and possibly reduce the amount of work the state authorities and courts have to do, the fee isn’t without its disadvantages. One of the biggest is that the fee absolves rights holders from having to deal with piracy problems and instead places the burdens on communication operators. The biggest problem with this shift is that users may have to pay more for their Internet subscription. So now that you have a better idea of the copyright violation issues going on in Russia, what does all of this have to do with you as a web host operating outside of Russia?

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The DMCA 

The Digital Medium Copyright Act (DMCA) was established as a way to safeguard online service providers like web hosts from facing liability for any information that is transmitted or posted by subscribers. This protection only applies if the service provider quickly disables or takes down the copyrighted material.

There are a few other stipulations that provide self harbor protection for web hosts and other online service providers, including:

  • The service provider must not financially benefit from or have knowledge of the copyrighted material
  • After the service provider has been made aware of the infringing activity, he must either remove or block access to the reported material
  • The service provider must create a copyright policy and make sure all subscribers and users are aware of the policy
  • There must also be an agent in place who is qualified to deal with any reported copyright violations

In the event that removed material is not found to be in violation of copyright infringement, the individual who posted or transmitted it on his website is legally entitled to file a counter-notice with the service provider. The service provider must then inform the individual who originally filed the complaint of the counter-notice. If 14 business days pass and the copyright owner does not inform the service provider that he has filed a court claim, then the website owner has the right to restore the materials.

Additional Info

 Just as it is in Russia, photographs aren’t considered under copyright violations. In most cases, the subject of a photograph is not legally allowed to initiate the DMCA takedown process. The only parties who are able to initiate the process are a legally authorized representative of the copyright owner and the copyright owner himself. Any kind of copyright in the photograph belongs solely to the individual who initially took the photograph, not the subject or subjects in the photograph. That being said, it is possible for the photograph’s subject to receive an assignment of copyright or permission to take action on the photographer’s behalf.

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In order to truly be protected under the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA, web hosts need to make sure they inform users of copyright infringement policies. This can be done by including the policy or policies on the original contract the user signs or agrees to. You can also include the policies and specific terms of services on your hosting website. No matter how you decide to inform users of your copyright infringement policies, it is legally required to be “reasonably implemented” in order for you to be protected.

Since copyright law can be a bit confusing and all-encompassing at times, it’s important to remember what copyright does not protect, including:

  • Procedures
  • Ideas
  • Facts
  • Methods of operation
  • Systems
  • Processes
  • Principles
  • Discoveries
  • Concepts

It’s a good idea for web hosts to speak with a legal professional who specializes in copyright law in order to make sure they aren’t already in violation of copyright. It’s always better and less stressful to hope for the best while you prepare for the worst.

Top image ©GL Stock Images

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