Registration and the DMCA

RightsClick Co-founder, David Newhoff, writes pro-copyright Illusion of More blog. In this post about the recent story in the New York Times about music piracy and fraud in the streaming market, David notes that registration is preferable when sending DMCA takedown notices. Below is a segment of the blog post.

From the NYT article: To retrieve their songs, Mr. Post and Mr. Blackwell sent out what are called takedown notices, or formal requests to remove pirated music, to a bunch of different sites. The band members used their SoundCloud page to demonstrate that their recordings predated all the uploads on the streaming platforms.

As stated, the DMCA takedown provision is middling at best. Segal reports that Amazon and YouTube removed the pirated tracks quickly, but Apple and Spotify did not. What struck me about the above paragraph, though, is the duo’s use of their SoundCloud page to prove priority and ownership of the work, which is kind of a digital-age version of mailing a copy to oneself—a.k.a. the “poor man’s copyright,” which is meaningless as a mode of legal protection. That brings me to the slightly mercenary point I wanted to make that the musical artist in this same position would find it both easier, and possibly more effective, to send the Copyright Office registration numbers associated with the works that should be removed by DMCA takedown.

One aspect of a registration is that, by operation of law, it is prima facie evidence of ownership. Walk into federal court with those registration certificates, and the burden is on the opposite party to prove that you’re not the owner of the work. In fact, without registration, you can’t walk into a court with an infringement claim, but with regard to a DMCA takedown—especially sent to one of the major platforms—the registration is literally a government seal establishing ownership of the work. It doesn’t guarantee that every platform will expeditiously comply with a takedown request, but it does give them a good reason to do so.

Further, because I am a passionate advocate for the rights of independent creators, I highlight this incident as the co-founder of a software business called RightsClick. A suite of tools designed to make copyright management easy for the entrepreneurial creator, the app facilitates fast, simple registration that simultaneously builds a database of Titles with their associated registration numbers. Thus, the indie musician in the same position as Mad Dog could look up those numbers in about two minutes and include them in a DMCA notice. Again, not a guarantee of compliance by the platform, but a stronger incentive. Including registration numbers is, after all, what the attorneys prefer to do when they send takedown notices.

The point worth emphasizing is that indie artists should register their work with the Copyright Office. No creator should ever be required to prove they own the work requested for takedown—the provision is already subject to penalties of perjury—but to the extent the platforms stall or play games in this regard, a registration number is a lot better than any other evidence one might otherwise provide.

Read the full blog post.