Author Denise McCune posts a great account of the workings and failings of the DMCA’s notice-and-takedown procedures.
As Cory Doctorow has also reported on BoingBoing, the VP of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America sent an error-filled takedown complaint to text-sharing site Scribd, causing removal of many non-infringing postings including reading lists suggesting great science fiction, and Cory’s own novels, which he’s CC-licensed for free redistribution.
The DMCA safe-harbor is most charitably described as an intricate dance for all parties involved: the copyright claimant, the ISP, and the poster. When the dancers are synchronized, its notice, takedown, and counternotice steps give each party a prescribed sequence by which to notify the others of claims and invite their responses. That’s why the DMCA requires the claimant to identify the copyrighted works, specify alleged infringements with “information reasonably sufficient to permit the service provider to locate the material,” and state good faith belief that the uses are unauthorized. When a copyright claimant misses one of those key elements, he starts stepping on toes.
The service provider isn’t obliged to respond to deficient notices, but if a notice contains all the right formal elements — even if it’s factually wrong about copyright ownership or copying — the service provider must choose between taking down the material or losing its DMCA safe-harbor and facing potential lawsuits. Posters who believe their material is non-infringing or fairly posted can counter-notify and even file their own lawsuits for misuse of copyright claims, under sec. 512(f).
I share McCune’s hope that the brouhaha will help the SFWA to help authors express all their copyright interests, including that of free sharing:
I hope the SFWA’s lawyers are sitting down with Andrew Burt and explaining how the DMCA actually works, so that actual, legitimate violations of copyright (on Scribd and on other sites) can get dealt with swiftly and promptly and the people who have asked SFWA to be their copyright representative can get infringing uses of their material removed. I’m also glad to see that the SFWA ePiracy Committee has suspended operations until they can investigate further — and, hopefully, come up with an effective process and procedure that benefits both fair and/or transformative use while also protecting the rights of copyright holders to have control over where and how their material is posted — whether that control is a more traditional “nobody gets to use this, period” or a Creative Commons-style authorization of transformative work.