What's the problem with DMCA takedown notices?

Participants in a US government discussion on the notice-and-takedown process disagree on a direction

By , IDG News Service |  IT Management

A U.S. government effort to encourage agreement among copyright holders and Web-based services on how to improve the notice-and-takedown process in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act began Thursday with some disagreement about what direction the discussions should take.

Several participants in the Department of Commerce Internet Policy Task Force's first public forum on improving the process called for the group to focus on standardizing the takedown notices, which copyright holders use to ask websites to take down infringing material.

Standardized notices could make the process easier for both copyright holders and for websites receiving the notices, several participants said. The agency has convened the discussions on the DMCA after its task force issued a policy paper last July examining online copyright enforcement.

With action in Congress not likely in the near term, a voluntary agreement between participants on some outstanding digital copyright issues could be productive, DOC officials said. The agency's multistakeholder dialogue, scheduled to continue for several months, is a "golden opportunity to find common ground and make meaningful improvements," said Michelle Lee, deputy director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

But participants disagreed on whether upcoming sessions should tackle reported abuses of the takedown process, one of about a dozen topics officials with the Department of Commerce and the USPTO threw out as potential issues for the group to address.

While there have been "anecdotes" of illegitimate takedown notices being sent, the problem of abusive notices is tiny, compared to the number of notices sent each year, said Ben Sheffner, vice president of legal affairs for the Motion Picture Association of America. One recent study found MPAA members sent 25 million takedown notices to search engines and cyber-lockers during a six-month stretch in 2013, and received only eight counter-notices challenging the requests.

"That suggests when you look at the number of incorrect or abusive notices in perspective, it's actually a minuscule percentage of the total," Sheffner said.

Others urged the group to address bogus takedown notices, because reports of abuse lead the public to question the legitimacy of the DMCA, said Corynne McSherry, intellectual property director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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