GitHub Promises To Alert Users To DMCA Notices Before Taking Content Down
from the interesting... dept
For many, many years, we’ve noted the serious problems of the DMCA’s “notice and takedown” provisions — which, arguably, violate the First Amendment. A potential alternative regimen, which would be much more reasonable, and avoid many of the censorship problems of the DMCA, would be to do a notice and notice setup, in which service providers would pass along notices to the user, with an established time period for that user to respond, either by fixing the issue or issuing a counternotice. Then the service provider could decide how to respond, in either taking down the content or leaving it up. Unfortunately, that’s not how the current DMCA safe harbors work. The notice-and-takedown provision does not require immediate takedown, but heavily incentivizes it by granting the service provider immunity from liability if they take the content down. This doesn’t mean that the service provider is automatically liable if they choose not to take the content down (courts have found service providers to still be protected otherwise), but they can’t use the simple and quick process of the safe harbor to get any lawsuits dismissed. Rather they might have to go through the full process of the lawsuit. Thus, some companies immediately take down all requested content in response to a DMCA request, just to give themselves protections under the safe harbor. Many, more reasonable, companies at least do a first-pass review over how legitimate the DMCA notice is, rejecting obviously frivolous ones, but still quickly taking down plenty of content (often mistakenly).
Github, the super popular site for storing software repositories has been hit with more than a few DMCA notices in its time — in fact, it has a repository publicly listing them all. Just recently, we had noted some controversial ones, including Qualcomm shutting down its own repository and the MPAA taking down Popcorn Time repositories, despite them containing no MPAA copyright covered material.
Github has now made a very interesting move in changing its DMCA process to one that is basically a notice-and-notice policy, and one which also does not create collateral damage for non-infringing forks of projects.
- First, whenever possible, users will have a chance to fix problems before we take content down.
- Second, we will not automatically disable forks in a network based on the takedown of a parent repository unless the takedown notice explicitly includes them.
- Last but not least, we’ve published a completely revamped DMCA policy as well as a pair of how-to guides for takedown and counter notices to make our process more transparent and easier to understand.
It’s that first one that is most interesting to me for a variety of reasons. The company admits that it sort of did this informally in the past, but now it’s official policy:
The first change is that from now on we will give you an opportunity, whenever possible, to modify your code before we take it down. Previously, when we blocked access to a Git repository, we had to disable the entire repository. This doesn’t make sense when the complaint is only directed at one file (or a few lines of code) in the repository, and the repository owner is perfectly happy to fix the problem.
In practice, our support team would often shuttle messages between the parties to work out a way for them to fix it. That usually worked out well and everyone ended up happier at the end of the day. So we are making it a formal part of our policy, and we are going to do it before we disable the rest of the repository.
It’s absolutely true that this seems like a much better overall policy for everyone — but it’s still surprising (if unfortunate that it’s surprising) that any company would be willing to take such a step, since, technically it’s opening the company up to some amount of greater liability — and lawyers tend to be averse to any move that may increase a company’s legal liability. So, kudos to Github and its lawyers for recognizing that sometimes you have to let in a little legal risk for the good of the overall community.