The Second Circuit delivered its highly anticipated decision in the Capitol Records v. Vimeo case. Various record labels sued UGC site Vimeo for copyright infringement of sound recording fixed prior to February 14, 1972, so-called Pre-72 recordings. The labels argued that the safe harbor provisions of Sec. 512 of the Copyright Act, which provides immunity to copyright infringement liability to UGC host sites subject to certain conditions, do not apply to Pre 72 recordings, which are not covered by the Copyright Act but rather are the subject to various state statutory and common law protections. Relying heavily on a 2011 report concerning the legal state of Pre 72 recordings from the Copyright Office, the federal district court for the Souther District of New York granted the labels’ motion for summary judgment.1 Vimeo appealed.
In discussing the origins of Sec. 512, the Second Circuit describes the “compromise” that Congress sought to establish between content creators and content users. That compromise provided creators with a ‘notice and takedown’ provision, which allowed creators to avoid filing individual copyright infringement actions against each and every unauthorized use online. That compromise provided users immunity from infringement claims and monitoring responsibilities, provided the user expeditiously remove content in response to a takedown request. This compromise, the Second Circuit concludes, would be illusory if Pre 72 recordings weren’t subject to the 512 safe harbor.
The Second Circuit begins by noting that “the district court accepted without discussion the position taken by the United States Copyright Office in a report prepared in 2011 that the safe harbor does not protect against liability for infringement of pre-1972 sound recordings.” The Second Circuit then dissects the report and its shortcomings.
The Second Circuit points out that
The Report begins its analysis by asserting that § 512(c)’s term “infringement of copyright” is defined in § 501(a) as the violation of “any of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner as provided by sections 106 through 122.” Section 501(a), however, does not contain such a definition. The Copyright Act’s definitions are set forth in § 101, and do not include a definition for “infringement of copyright.
The Second Circuit rejects the Office’s conclusion, reasoning
The statement that one who violates rights identified in specified sections is an “infringer of copyright” does not purport to set forth an exclusive definition of “infringer of copyright.” … To state that conduct x violates a law is not the same thing as saying that conduct x is the only conduct that violates the law. (emphasis in original)
The Second Circuit concludes, therefore, that the safe harbor must include Pre 72 recordings or the entire “compromise” envisaged by Congress would be illusory.
what Congress intended in passing § 512(c) was to strike a compromise under which, in return for the obligation to take down infringing works promptly on receipt of notice of infringement from the owner, Internet service providers would be relieved of liability for user-posted infringements of which they were unaware, as well as of the obligation to scour matter posted on their services to ensure against copyright infringement. The purpose of the compromise was to make economically feasible the provision of valuable Internet services while expanding protections of the interests of copyright owners through the new notice-and-takedown provision. To construe § 512(c) as leaving service providers subject to liability under state copyright laws for postings by users of infringements of which the service providers were unaware would defeat the very purpose Congress sought to achieve in passing the statute.
Second Circuit Decision
Copyright Office Pre-72 Report
- There were also questions of red flag knowledge that were decided under the Second Circuit’s prior YouTube decision, but I don’t find those particularly interesting or newsworthy. ↩