Commerce DMCA Meeting Looks to Tackle Standardized Takedowns First

The Obama Administration Thursday launched its latest multistakeholder process on standards and best practices for improving the notice and takedown system for infringing Internet content.

The goal is to come up with voluntary standards and avoid the scorched earth debate that took down the SOPA/PIPA legislation in 2013.

Thursday's day-long meeting, which was overseen by the Department of Commerce and hosted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, appeared to find common ground on the need to focus on one issue rather than tackle several at once. That issue was a standardized template for the notice and takedown regime under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which is the way content rights holders and ISPs inform Web users of allegedly infringing content.

A representative of the Motion Picture Association of America agreed that standardized templates was a good topic to start with. He also said that the focus should be on a process that was effective, not just efficient. He said the point is not to generate millions of notices, but to cut down on the need for them by cutting down on infringement.

He also weighed in on one of the other issues on the table, one that will likely be more contentious: abusive or incorrect notices. He suggested that such notices are actually a "minuscule" percentage and should not take up resources disproportionate to their impact.

That drew some immediate pushback. Jim Halpert, general counsel for the Internet Commerce Coalition (Internet and tech companies), said that abuse of the process is a "real" issue, pointing to servers that had been crashed by millions of notices sent by companies paid by the notice. He said that kind of "gun for hire" approach could be destructive to the process for both rights holder and Web users.

David Sohn of the Center for Democracy and Technology took issue with the suggestion that abuse of the takedown process did not warrant equal attention as some of the other topics. He said the DMCA is a "pretty powerful tool" for rights holders, and without any judicial intervention, and as the process became more automated, it was more likely that, right or wrong, takedown notices would result in content "probably" coming off the Web, a power which could be misused by someone who wants to make content "disappear."

Sherwin Siy from Public Knowledge said he agreed with starting with the standardized process, but warned that it should not be so standardized that it does not take into account different levels of sophistication or those not used to the system. He said it can be intimidating for those trying to respond to counter those notices. Standard formats have advantages he said, but the process should also account for "nonstandard responses."

The next meeting will be in a May 8-12 in window in California and focus on technical details of the problems and successes in standardization of notices. It will be webcast and there will be opportunity for participation via a moderated phone bridge for those who can't afford to make the trip. ISPs and rightsholders are being encouraged to attend the meeting to educate the group.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.