Authors Guild Wants ISPs to Track Book Piracy

The trade group that represents book authors is upping its policy game, arguing that the “safe harbor” policies of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act are protecting copyright thieves while making it too challenging for small authors to take the necessary steps to stop piracy. The guild wants Congress to flip the equation.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), despite the initial controversy ahead of its 1998 passage, has proved successful in allowing innovation to thrive without too many hindrances from copyright concerns.

The Authors Guild, however, would like to see a key feature of the law, the “Notice and Takedown” system, replaced with a more effective “Notice and Stay-Down” system, under which internet service providers (ISPs) would have to take “reasonable measures” to ensure that materials that illegally infringe on other creators’ work are removed from their sites or lose their “safe harbor” immunity from claims of infringement. The guild proposed this change in a letter to the House Judiciary Committee [PDF] earlier this month.

Part of the issue, it says, is that the policy effectively puts small copyright holders, such as authors, at the losing end of a fight against copyright infringement.

“Individual copyright owners do not have the resources to send notices for every instance of infringement online, much less to keep sending them for copies reposted after being taken down,” Executive Director Mary Rasenberger explained in the letter. “Individuals do not have access to automated systems that track infringing copies and send notices, nor do they have the bargaining power to make the deals with ISPs that larger corporations can.”

ISPs, however, are large enough that they “should bear the burden of limiting piracy on their sites, especially when they are profiting from the piracy and have the technology to conduct automated searches and takedowns,” she argued.

The guild is known for taking tough stances on technology issues. The organization famously put up a decade-long fight against Google Books, which it claimed was committing acts of piracy as part of its efforts to digitize as many books as possible. The case is currently going through the appeals process.

And earlier this month, the guild also joined the American Booksellers Association, the Association of Authors’ Representatives, and Authors United in writing letters to the Justice Department to request that it look into whether Amazon is violating antitrust law based on the strong hold it has on the book-selling market.

But it’s the “safe harbor” provision, which requires copyright holders to send notices to websites informing them of the existence of pirated content uploaded by third parties, that has the guild most on edge.

“We do not believe that Congress intended the safe harbors to protect ISPs who have knowledge that there are infringing copies of specific works made available on or though their services and are welcoming that infringement, especially where a simple search would confirm that the works are there and were posted by people who do not own the rights,” the guild wrote in a policy document [PDF] in March.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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