Table of Contents:

Introduction to the online version


Preface to the printed version

Copyright Overview

Software Copyright

Digital Copyright

- Why Digital Works are Different

- A Bad Fit

- Protecting Digital Information

- What Not to Protect

- DMCA Safe Harbors

   - Notice and Takedown and Putback

   - Mere Conduits

   - Caching

   - Stored Information

   - Directories

   - Other Safe Harbor Requirements

   - Special Rules for Schools

- Protection Through Technology

- DMCA Technological Protections

   - Trafficking

   - Accessing

   - Distinction From Copyright

   - Rights Management

   - Permitted Circumventions

   - Reverse Engineering

   - Encryption Research

   - Code as Speech

   - Security Testing

Patent Overview

Software Patents

Full treatise table of contents

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Chapter 3: Copyright of Digital Information

III.B.7. Directories and Links

Subsection (d) covers directories and other ways of locating information on the World Wide Web. This safe harbor is not available to vicarious infringers. And you can’t remain in the safe harbor if you link to information that you know or reasonably suspect is infringing. If a court has told you to remove information from your Web site because it likely infringes somebody’s copyright, you can’t replace it with a pointer to the information stored on another Web site and expect to remain in this safe harbor.

Congress noted the importance to the operation of the Internet of information locating tools:

    Information location tools are essential to the operation of the Internet; without them, users would not be able to find the information they need. Directories are particularly helpful in conducting effective searches by filtering out irrelevant and offensive material. The Yahoo! directory, for example, currently categorizes over 800,000 online locations and serves as a “card catalogue” to the World Wide Web, which over 35,000,000 different users visit each month. Directories such as Yahoo!’s usually are created by people visiting sites to categorize them. It is precisely the human judgment and editorial discretion exercised by these cataloguers which makes directories valuable.

    This provision is intended to promote the development of information location tools generally, and Internet directories such as Yahoo!’s in particular, by establishing a safe-harbor from copyright infringement liability for information location tool providers if they comply with the notice and takedown procedures and other requirements of subsection (d). The knowledge or awareness standard should not be applied in a manner which would create a disincentive to the development of directories which involve human intervention. Absent actual knowledge, awareness of infringement as provided in subsection (d) should typically be imputed to a directory provider only with respect to pirate sites or in similarly obvious and conspicuous circumstances, and not simply because the provider viewed an infringing site during the course of assembling the directory. {FN115: Sen. Rep. No. 105-190 at 49}

The requirements for the safe harbor are met if the service provider:

(1)(A) does not have actual knowledge that the material or activity is infringing;

    (B) in the absence of such actual knowledge, is not aware of facts or circumstances from which infringing activity is apparent; or

    (C) upon obtaining such knowledge or awareness, acts expeditiously to remove, or disable access to, the material;

(2) does not receive a financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing activity, in a case in which the service provider has the right and ability to control such activity; and

(3) upon notification of claimed infringement as described in subsection (c)(3), responds expeditiously to remove, or disable access to, the material that is claimed to be infringing or to be the subject of infringing activity, except that, for purposes of this paragraph, the information described in subsection (c)(3)(A)(iii) shall be identification of the reference or link, to material or activity claimed to be infringing, that is to be removed or access to which is to be disabled, and information reasonably sufficient to permit the service provider to locate that reference or link. {FN116: 17 U.S.C. §512(d)}

The Senate Judiciary Committee discussed these requirements:

    Subsection (d) applies to referring or linking users to an online location containing infringing material or infringing activity using information location tools. The reference to “infringing activity” is intended to refer to wrongful activity that is occurring at the location to which the link or reference refers, without regard to whether copyright infringement is technically deemed to occur at that location or at the location where the material is received. The term information location tools includes, for example: a directory or index of online sites or material such as a search engine that identifies pages by specified criteria, a reference to other online material such as a list of recommended sites, a pointer that stands for an Internet location or address, or a hypertext link which allows users to access material without entering its address.

    Subsection (d) incorporates the notification and take down structure of subsection (c) and applies it to the provision of references and links to infringing sites. A service provider is entitled to the liability limitations of subsection (d) if it: (1) lacks actual knowledge of infringement on the other site, and is not aware of facts or circumstances from which infringing activity in that location is apparent; (2) does not receive a financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing activity on the site, where the service provider has the right and ability to control the infringing activity; and (3) responds expeditiously to remove or disable the reference or link upon receiving a notification of claimed infringement as described in subsection (c)(3). The notification procedures under subsection (d) follow those set forth in subsection (c). However, the information submitted by the complaining party under subsection (c)(3)(A)(iii) is identification of the reference or link to infringing material or activity, and information reasonably sufficient to permit the service provider to locate that reference or link.

    Section 512(d) provides a safe harbor that would limit the liability of a service provider that refers or links users to an online location containing infringing material or activity by using “information location tools,” such as hyperlink directories and indexes. A question has been raised as to whether a service provider would be disqualified from the safe harbor based solely on evidence that it had viewed the infringing Internet site. If so, there is concern that online directories prepared by human editors and reviewers, who view and classify various Internet sites, would be denied eligibility to the information location tools safe harbor, in an unintended number of cases and circumstances. This is an important concern because such online directories play a valuable role in assisting Internet users to identify and locate the information they seek on the decentralized and dynamic networks of the Internet.

    Like the information storage safe harbor in section 512(c), a service provider would qualify for this safe harbor if, among other requirements, it “does not have actual knowledge that the material or activity is infringing” or, in the absence of such actual knowledge, it is “not aware of facts or circumstances from which infringing activity is apparent.” Under this standard, a service provider would have no obligation to seek out copyright infringement, but it would not qualify for the safe harbor if it had turned a blind eye to “red flags” of obvious infringement.

    For instance, the copyright owner could show that the provider was aware of facts from which infringing activity was apparent if the copyright owner could prove that the location was clearly, at the time the directory provider viewed it, a “pirate” site of the type described below, where sound recordings, software, movies or books ere available for unauthorized downloading, public performance or public display. Absent such “red flags” or actual knowledge, a directory provider would not be similarly aware merely because it saw one or more well known photographs of a celebrity at a site devoted to that person. The provider could not be expected, during the course of its brief cataloguing visit, to determine whether the photograph was still protected by copyright or was in the public domain; if the photograph was still protected by copyright, whether the use was licensed; and if the use was not licensed, whether it was permitted under the fair use doctrine.

    The important intended objective of this standard is to exclude sophisticated “pirate” directories – which refer Internet users to other selected Internet sites where pirate software, books, movies, and music can be downloaded or transmitted--from the safe harbor. Such pirate directories refer Internet users to sites that are obviously infringing because they typically use words such as “pirate,” “bootleg,” or slang terms in their uniform resource locator (URL) and header information to make their illegal purpose obvious to the pirate directories and other Internet users. Because the infringing nature of such sites would be apparent from even a brief and casual viewing, safe harbor status for a provider that views such a site and then establishes a link to it would not be appropriate. Pirate directories do not follow the routine business practices of legitimate service providers preparing directories, and thus evidence that they have viewed the infringing site may be all that is available for copyright owners to rebut their claim to a safe harbor.

    In this way, the “red flag” test in section 512(d) strikes the right balance. The common-sense result of this “red flag” test is that on-line editors and catalogers would not be required to make discriminating judgments about potential copyright infringement. If, however, an Internet site is obviously pirate, then seeing it may be all that is needed for the service provider to encounter a “red flag.” A provider proceeding in the face of such a red flag must do so without the benefit of a safe harbor. {FN117: Sen. Rep. No. 105-190 at 47-49}

Next section: Other Safe Harbor Requirements

Copyright © 2002, Lee A. Hollaar. See information regarding permitted usage.