Authors Guild Wants Web Companies To 'Cooperate' In Fight Against Piracy

For years, many online copyright disputes have been resolved through a “notice-and-takedown” procedure: Content owners who discover pirated copies of their work online notify the Web sites hosting the material and provide the URL where the infringing copy can be found. The sites -- like Google, for instance -- then take down the work, assuming they agree that it infringes copyright.

Now, the Authors Guild wants to change that system. The organization says that notice-and-takedown is insufficient to protect writers because the same material can be uploaded again -- either by the same person who did so before, or by other people. Each time a pirated book is uploaded anew, the content owner must find the URL and send another takedown notice.

“What we need instead is a “Notice and Stay-Down” regime,” the group says in a letter to the House Judiciary Committee.

“Individual copyright owners do not have the resources to send notices for every instance of infringement online, much less to keep sending them for copies reposted after being taken down,” the Authors Guild writes.

Specifically, the organization is urging lawmakers to revise the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's  “safe harbor” provisions in a way that encourages Web companies to “cooperate with copyright owners” to prevent piracy.

Currently, the DMCA safe harbors provide that Web companies are immune from infringement liability based on material uploaded by users, but only if the companies take down the material in response to complaints.

In the last 10 years, numerous courts have interpreted the safe harbors to immunize Web companies in cases where content owners have failed to provide the specific URLs that house infringing work. In other words, content owners who tell Web sites to, for instance, remove all copies of “Game of Thrones” episodes can't then prevail in a copyright infringement case if the sites fail to do so. Instead, content owners only have a valid case if they've provided sites with the precise location of each pirated clip.

One reason for those rulings is that content owners are in a better position than Web site operators to know whether a particular clip is authorized. In fact, networks -- and their marketing agents -- have been known to upload copyrighted work as part of a promotional effort.

Regardless, the Authors Guild says the current system isn't working for its members, arguing that online piracy has played a role in lower income for writers.

“The entire publishing industry loses $80 to $100 million to piracy annually, according to a 2012 estimate by the Association of American Publishers,” the group writes. The organization adds that median writing-related income is now $8,000, marking a 24% drop since 2009 -- the year it says that “e-book sales started to take off.”

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