Tell us what's wrong with the DMCA, says US Copyright office

Form a queue people, no pushing

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The US Copyright Office is asking the tech industry and members of the public to comment about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), and in particular the rules governing copyright infringement.

Section 512 of the DMCA gives ISPs and internet hosts immunity from prosecution if material that infringes copyright, such as music tracks, is taken down promptly if the entity owning the rights to it protests. "Repeat infringers" are penalized.

The clause has spawned an entire industry of copyright management, with platforms like YouTube receiving thousands of automated takedown requests every day. Where the courts find a host hasn't acted quickly enough, as in the recent case of Cox Communications, large fines can be levied.

The DMCA was signed into law in 1998, and since then flaws have been consistently pointed out in the legislation, not least with section 512. So the Copyright Office wants to know how to improve things.

"The Office will consider the costs and burdens of the notice-and-takedown process on large- and small-scale copyright owners, online service providers, and the general public," the request reads.

"The Office will also review how successfully section 512 addresses online infringement and protects against improper takedown notices. To aid in this effort, and to provide thorough assistance to Congress, the Office is seeking public input on a number of key questions."

In the request for responses, the Office posits 28 questions it would like answered, including how the legislation is working in practice, what legal precedents are affecting its operation, and whether takedown notices are effective. It also asks for any academic studies on the matter.

The Office can certainly expect to get a lot of submissions from members of the technology industry and internet rights activists, many of whom are capable of ranting at great length on the topic – occasionally with spittle-flecked vigor. Members of the public can also submit their views.

The guidelines for submissions will be posted on February 1 and the open period for comments ends on March 21, so there's plenty of time to get a submission ready. How much good this will do, however, remains to be seen. ®

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