Critics of DMCA takedowns flood US Copyright Office with thousands of comments

Advocates want penalties for companies that file unwarranted takedown requests

Critics of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act have flooded the U.S. Copyright Office with tens of thousands of comments complaining about a process that often forces websites to kill user-generated content when faced with a copyright complaint.

Before Thursday, the Copyright Office had received only about 80 public comments about potential changes to the DMCA's notice-and-takedown provisions, with the comment period scheduled to close Monday.

But another 55,000 people had filed comments as of Monday morning after digital rights group Fight for the Future and YouTube channel ChannelAwesome launched a campaign late Thursday to encourage people to complain about "the many ways that the DMCA is abused to censor and take down legitimate content from the Internet, stifling innovation, cultural creation, and freedom of speech."

ChannelAwesome's YouTube video, "Save Fair Use Now," has been viewed more than 180,000 times since it was posted Thursday. Fair use exemptions to copyright protections allow people to make limited use of protected material for things like commenting on it, news coverage, and parodies.

Instead of the takedown provision "being used to protect the content creators you know and love, it's now being used to harass and even destroy those content creators," Michael Michaud, said in the ChannelAwesome video.

Michaud called for penalties for companies that file false DMCA takedown notices.

Critics of the DMCA takedown provision have complained that many copyright owners send thousands of automated takedown notices to sites like YouTube, and in many cases, website owners remove user-generated content without investigating whether there was a copyright violation or whether the content was covered by fair use exemptions.

Many copyright groups, however, defend the provision as a valuable tool to protect copyrights, and some have called for the provision to be strengthened.

Fight for the Future's goal is to make sure the Copyright Office doesn't make the takedown process worse, "and to push for stronger protections for fair use and free speech within the takedown process," said Evan Greer, campaign director for the group.

"Right now if someone gets their video removed by DMCA by a bogus claim, the only recourse they have is a lawsuit, which is just not feasible for most small content creators," Greer added by email. "If DMCA is going to have a takedown process, it needs to have safeguards to prevent that process from being abused."

Fight for the Future's automated form encourages people to complain that the DMCA takedown process is "heavily biased in favor of corporate copyright holders and too commonly used to censor content that is protected under fair use."

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