Artists Say ‘Safe Harbor’ is a Shield for Copyright Infringement

As revenue from streaming rose 29 percent last year, artists and the recording industry are renewing their effort to get the U.S. Copyright Office to take a second look at the “safe harbor provisions” of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. They say that places the onus on policing copyright infringement on them, protecting services such as YouTube where copyrighted material is uploaded without permission. Katy Perry, Billy Joel and Rod Stewart are among the artists who have put a public face on the debate.

Bloomberg reports the tech services respond that they offer such tools as YouTube’s Content ID, which identifies copyright infringement. The artists, however, claim that, “Section 512 of the DMCA has become the all-purpose shield that tech companies hide behind while they threaten the livelihood of music creators. This outdated law forces us to stand by helplessly as billions of dollars in advertising is sold around illegal copies of our work.”


The artists were joined by 18 music organizations in filing a brief outlining the “flaws in the DMCA,” and, given that Congress might not change the law, identifying “ways in which tech companies could reform their practices on their own.” The Copyright Office, which will host hearings in Palo Alto, California, and New York in May, can’t change the law but can make a recommendation to the congressional subcommittee that has been reviewing copyright law since 2013.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association, the trade group for the tech companies involved, also pushed back, noting that artists and record labels have no data to prove losses.

“While complaints that the DMCA safe harbors ‘do not work’ are at times advanced by rights holders who would prefer to shift more enforcement costs onto intermediaries, these complaints lack empirical evidence,” said the group’s statement. Bloomberg notes that, “the film and TV industry failed in a recent effort to pass legislation that was intended to curtail online copyright infringement.”

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