Dozier Internet Law handles alot of e-commerce and website legal audits. That means that we review a website and e-commerce business and "get it legal". That is becoming more and more difficult because we have to look into the future and figure out where legal doctrines are headed and what the popular lawsuits will be about in two or three years. Because, as our clients learn, what they do today may not have an impact on them for years. It would be a shame to be doing something today that you learn three years from now was illegal.
And to do this effectively Dozier Internet Law, as a litigation law firm, often sees the evolving issues very early on. Our Dozier Internet Law Federal Court Report serves as a monitor and advance early warning avoidance system, in a sense, for web businesses to understand what will get you sued. But you really have to live the law of the web day in and day out, have a firm grasp of technology, be intimately familiar with the business of the web, and have a great imagination to see the future. We don't claim to be perfect, but here is some food for thought on a legal risk that could lead to your company being sued for copyright infringement.
Under Section 512 "safe harbor" protection, a business can avoid copyright infringement liability if you do certain things at certain times. So, if you have a music site, and you follow the Digital Millennium Copyright Act provisions, you likely won't be sued or have liability unless your site is reliant in some material respect on the copyright infringement occurring. Under the doctrine of "contributory copyright infringement", liability for copyright infringement extends to business partners who are intentionally inducing or encouraging the direct infringement. So, if you know or should know of the infringing conduct, are advertising on a site that is carrying copyright infringing materials, you are providing services and support for the infringing site, you are a payment processor or even a web host or web developer, or you are somehow monetarily benefiting from the traffic at the site, you may be asked in a not so gracious way to assist the courts in defining who is liable as a contributory copyright infringer in the online world. And these lawsuits will be filed against individuals even though the small business is a corporation. That's a pretty scary possibility. But that is where I see things headed, and the only issue will be where the courts will draw the line of liability...what concepts, doctrines and rules of law will be adopted from the case law to apply to an online business world operating in an entirely new way? No one knows. But we can make an educated and informed guess. And that is what we at Dozier Internet Law do just about every day.
Sure, it's guesswork. If you can't see the trees because of the forest, this arena is not a place for you as a business person. As Internet lawyers we have to not only see the trees, but the saplings that will become the forest. And sometimes we have to see the seeds that will become the saplings that will become the trees that will become the forest.
If you want to avoid liability for contributory copyright infringement you need to know a lot about the business practices of your customers, business partners, and affiliate marketers. Pleading ignorance may be a successful defense, and I am sure one that will be used in virtually every case by the defendants. If you have a six figure legal budget to fight the lawsuit you may like your chances. But the smart thing to do is to make an informed decision. We help with that.