The Department of Commerce‘s Internet Policy Task Force recently released its much-anticipated report on statutory damages, remixes, and the first sale doctrine. The report, titled White Paper on Remixes, First Sale, and Statutory Damages: Copyright Policy, Creativity, and Innovation in the Digital Economy (The IPTF Report), recommended numerous important and long overdue changes to the Copyright Act. Those recommendations focus on three key areas:
- the legal framework for the creation of remixes;
- the relevance and scope of the first sale doctrine in the digital environment; and
- the application of statutory damages in the context of individual file-sharers and secondary liability for large-scale online infringement. (p. iii, The IPTF Report).
The Task Force Report made three recommendations overall:
- To enact a new section 504 of the Copyright Act that lists factors for courts and juries to consider when determining the amount of a statutory damages award.
- To remove the “notice bar” to the Innocent Infringer “defense” and instead treat notice as merely a factor. This change is especially important to protect a good faith, mistaken user (who I refer to as a “mea culpa infringer” in Safe Harbor for the Innocent Infringer in the Digital Age).
- To give courts the discretion to assess statutory damages in ways other than a strict per-work basis in cases involving non-willful secondary liability for online services offering a large number of works.
I write primarily about the impact of new technologies and new forms of artistic expression on copyright law. Therefore, I am excited and encouraged to see that my assertions and recommendations in Safe Harbor for the Innocent Infringer in the Digital Age (50 Willamette L. Rev. 1 (2013)), Reverse Engineering IP (17 Marquette Intell. Prop. L. Rev. 61 (2013)), and Sampling, Looping & Mashing … Oh MY! (21 Fordham Intell. Prop. Media & Ent. L.J. 843 (2011)), are consistent with the Task Force’s approach to these critical areas in need of substantive reform.
For example, in Safe Harbor for the Innocent Infringer in the Digital Age I explored the role of the innocent infringer archetype historically and in the digital age. I also highlighted the tension between a “20th century” copyright regime and “21st century” user expectations regarding generally accepted online uses of copyrighted materials. Those customary uses reflect the efficient use of digital technologies and the Internet. Finally, I offered a legislative fix in the form of “safe harbor” from liability for certain innocent infringers akin to the type of protection afforded online service providers.
In that article, I argued that such an exemption seems not only more efficient but also more just in the online environment where unwitting infringement for the average copyright consumer is far easier than ever to commit, extremely difficult to police, and often causes little, if any, real market harm.
In a current work-in-progress titled “Safer Harbor” from Statutory Damages for Mea Culpa Infringers: Remixing the DOC White Paper, I approach the topic from the damages-instead of the liability-phase.
I offer a legislative fix to the statutory damages section that would inject greater balance, fairness and uniformity into the damages assessment. I began writing this article in 2014 but in light the IPTF Report, I intend to analyze and incorporate the Report’s findings and recommendations against the backdrop of my own recommended fixes to copyright law.