It is that time once again when we look back on the previous year in preparation to close the final chapter on 2016 and to look ahead toward 2017. With patent reform surprisingly stalled, the biggest news stories of the year may have been the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB)… As 2016 started and through at least the first half of 2016 it seemed as if the PTAB had become rather all-powerful and completely unsusceptible to judicial restraints. As we close 2016 and look forward to 2017 a decidedly different picture seems like it is emerging… The other big news story of 2016 was with respect to patent eligibility…
Soon, government lawyers will have to show up in court to defend those rules. Yesterday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a lawsuit (PDF) claiming the parts of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that deal with copy protection and digital locks are unconstitutional.
Under the DMCA, any hacking or breaking of digital locks, often referred to as digital rights management or DRM, is a criminal act. That means modding a game console, hacking a car’s software, and copying a DVD are all acts that violate the law, no matter what the purpose. Those rules are encapsulated in Section 1201 of the DMCA, which was lobbied for by the entertainment industry and some large tech companies.
A US Department of Commerce task force recommended Thursday that Congress alter the Copyright Act in a bid that likely would reduce financial damages for file sharing copyright scofflaws.
The recommendations from the agency’s Internet Policy Task Force don’t call for doing away with the maximum $150,000 in damages available to rights holders per infringement. But if Congress adopts the task force’s recommendations, it’s doubtful there would be large awards, as one of the recommendations would require juries to consider a file sharer’s ability to pay and, among other things, the actual value of the works that were infringed.
“We believe that litigants and courts would be well-served by requiring consideration of a uniform set of factors designed to result in an appropriate award based upon the facts of each case,” said the report from the task force, which included members from the US Patent and Trademark Office, The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and other Commerce Department entities.
Earlier today the U.S. Department of Commerce issued a report titled White Paper on Remixes, First Sale, and Statutory Damages, which recommends amendments to U.S. copyright law that would provide more guidance and greater flexibility to courts in awarding statutory damages. However, the Task Force has found insufficient evidence to show that there is a change in circumstance in the markets or technology that requires action on amending the first sale doctrine.
The Copyright Office has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) regarding a new electronic submission process for websites and online services to designate agents to receive 512(c)(3) copyright takedown notices. The agent designation process is crucial to the 17 USC 512 safe harbors because the formality of designating an agent is required to qualify for the 512(c) safe harbor. See, e.g., BWP v. Hollywood Fan Sites. As part of rolling out the electronic submission process, the NPRM proposes reducing the filing fee from $105 (or more) to $6, reflecting that an electronic filing system would reduce the Copyright Office’s operating costs.