from the are-you-serious? dept
As we mentioned last month, the Copyright Office — despite being warned this was a bad idea — has decided to implement a brand new system for websites to register DMCA agents, and has done so in a way that will undoubtedly fuck over many websites. It’s already ridiculous enough that in order to be fully protected under the DMCA’s safe harbor rules (that say you’re not liable if someone posts infringing material to your website), you need to register a designated “DMCA agent” with the Copyright Office. The idea behind this is that by registering an agent, copyright holders will be able to look up who to send a takedown notice to. And, sure, that makes sense, but remember that this is the same Copyright Office that supports not requiring copyright holders to register their works, meaning that there may not be any legitimate way to contact copyright holders back.
The reason for the new system is that the old system was just ridiculous — on that everyone can agree. You had to fill out a paper form, sign it, and send it in. The Copyright Office has been way behind on digitizing everything, so moving to a web based system is a good thing. Also, the old system required payment of over $100, while the new one is just $6. That’s all good. The problem is twofold: first, the Copyright Office has said that it is throwing out all the old registrations, and if you want to retain your safe harbors, you need to re-register. There’s a grace period through the end of next year, but plenty of sites who don’t follow the Copyright Office’s every move are going to miss this, and will no longer have an officially registered agent with the Copyright Office (it’s possible that, should this issue go to court, a platform could reasonably argue that it still did meet the statutory requirements in the original registration, but why force site owners through that hoop in the first place). The second problem, is that this new system will toss out records every three years, so if you forget to renew, you once again can lose your legal safe harbors. This puts tons of websites at serious risk, removing key protections and opening them up to lawsuits from copyright trolls.
Either way, the Copyright Office opened the doors on the new system yesterday, and so I went ahead and re-registered Techdirt. And, let’s just say, the Copyright Office has a reputation for being technically clueless, and boy, does it live up to that reputation with its new system — though, to be fair, as the Copyright Office’s General Counsel reminded me on Twitter, it’s actually the Library of Congress that built the system. First off, to register a new agent, you need to first register with the Copyright Office’s system. As Eric Goldman points out, the system is not designed for individuals or sole proprietorships, even though those people should be able to get DMCA safe harbor protections as well. Specifically, to register, it requires an organization name and a “second contact” name and information. I’m not sure what individuals should do, other than maybe make something up — though, before you even get started, the system pops up a warning suggesting that you may face criminal charges under the CFAA if you do anything wrong (while it means if you try to hack the system, the wording may confuse many people not familiar with the law). Nice touch.
Oh, and then there’s the password system. Like many people, I use a password manager, which also will generate strong passwords for you. I went through the process of filling out my info, and generated a strong password… and I got back an error message. It seems that the Copyright Office has taken what used to be considered best practices, and then took it to an insane extreme:
First of all, the US government, in the form of NIST, recently released new guidelines for password policies for any US government websites. And the Copyright Office ignores them, because whoever designed the new DMCA system seems to not give a shit and not be even remotely aware of good security practices these days. Here’s what the new rules say:
No composition rules. What this means is, no more rules that force you to use particular characters or combinations, like those daunting conditions on some password reset pages that say, “Your password must contain one lowercase letter, one uppercase letter, one number, four symbols but not &%#@_, and the surname of at least one astronaut.”
Let people choose freely, and encourage longer phrases instead of hard-to-remember passwords or illusory complexity such as pA55w+rd.
So, yeah, nice job Copyright Office for ignoring what you’re supposed to do. Second, even if those rules did make sense, by lumping together all of them, and then adding the absolutely ridiculous and bad security practice of saying “must not have any repeated letters, numbers, or special characters,” you actually reduce randomness and make passwords less secure. This is just bad security.
To deal with this rule, I generated a much longer password, and then manually went through and removed any repeated letters, numbers or special characters, and made sure that all of the other rules were met. They were. I hit submit. The system rejected it, and gave me the exact same error message. I tried again. Same problem. I kept trying things for about 20 minutes until I figured out what the problem was. You see above, where it says “and special character “!@#$%^&*()””? Well, in my first attempt at a password I had two special characters: ? and >. I incorrectly assumed that when they say “special character” they mean any special character on the keyboard, and not just those limited to the ones above the number line on your keyboard. Once I realized that might be the issue, I still had a problem. And that’s because my new password had ” as a special character. I incorrectly assumed that was okay because it’s in that list above, right? Except, no, it’s not. It’s just put around those symbols for no reason at all except to fool people. It would be nice if the error message actually told you that you could only use those characters and that the ” wasn’t included. Would have saved me a lot of time.
Once I finally finished that, the system sent me a confirmation/validation email (good), which I used to confirm my email and log into the system… only to discover that everything I had just done… was not actually registering a DMCA agent. It was just to register your account to use the Copyright Office’s DMCA system. So I had to then go and fill out another form to register our DMCA agent (and I won’t even get into the fact that once you’ve activated your account, the message telling you to “click here” to login to designate an agent makes it so that it’s not at all where to actually click — great design guys!).
Finally, once I’m all registered, and despite the fact that I’m very clearly registered in the United States, the system says I’m in Canada. Because, apparently, the genius IT staff thinks that the “CA”, which everywhere else means California, means Canada in their own system. Because whatever, nothing matters.
So, yes, I eventually paid my $6 and got registered, but lots of people won’t and lots of sites are now going to expose themselves to bogus lawsuits. And for those who do get through this process, you may end up in Canada. So anyway, off we go to this new era, in which websites are much more at risk of losing their safe harbor protections, and to make it more fun, the system you need to use to register yourself is buggy as hell with a bunch of bad design practices. It’s almost as if they want websites to lose their safe harbors. Considering that the key role of the Copyright Office is to register stuff (the boss of the office is literally called “The Register”), it seems fairly ridiculous that they make it so difficult to register DMCA agents, and then force renewal every three years (while at the same time insisting that any renewal requirement for copyright holders would go against the natural order of things and bring famine and pestilence upon the land).
Filed Under: copyright office, dmca, dmca 512, dmca agent, library of congress, nist, passwords, safe harbors