If your franchise–or your franchisees–operate a website that accepts user-generated content, NOW is the time to contact the Copyright Office.

Whether you realize it or not, your website probably accepts user-generated content. Examples of such content include e-commerce websites that accept product reviews, franchise-sponsored blogs that publish user comments on posted articles, and brand fandom sites that permit users to share photos or videos.

It can be very difficult for you to determine whether user-generated content posted to your brand’s website was created by the user who posted it, or whether the content infringes someone else’s copyright.

To protect your brand from being liable for copyright infringement resulting from user-generated content, since 1988 the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has provided a “safe harbor” from liability so long as you follow certain procedures, including:

  • not actually knowing about the infringement;
  • not financially benefiting from the infringement;
  • when gaining knowledge of infringement, acting quickly to remove or disable access to the infringing material; and
  • designating an agent to receive notifications of claimed copyright infringement, and providing the agent’s contact information to the Copyright Office.

As of December 2016, the procedures for designating a DMCA agent changed. Previously, DMCA agent designation was handled by completing a form and filing the form with the Copyright Office with a required filing fee.

Under the new DMCA agent designation procedure, all DMCA agent designations must be done online. Even entities that previously designated an agent must file an online designation to maintain their DMCA designations. Any entity that previously designated an agent with the Office will have until December 31, 2017 to use the online system to update their agent designation. You must create an account on the Copyright Office website and complete the agent designation form online.

The Copyright Office has published several video tutorials to help you understand how to use the new online designation system. Those tutorials are available on the Copyright Office website.

This lightly-edited post was drafted by my partner Jim Singer and originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on the IP Spotlight blog.