A court has determined that online stores, such as Zazzle, that manufacture products cannot enjoy the "safe harbor" benefits of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), 17 U.S.C. §512 normally made available to online service providers - to the extent that they satisfy required conditions.
This is due to the fact that Zazzle has a responsibility to control the production of merchandise for sale and ensure that it does not infringe copyright.
Below I try to tease out the key elements of the case and why the plaintiff succeeded in getting a a ruling that the plaintiff (an agent for an artist) can recover $460,000 in pecuniary damages from Zazzle.
The 'safe harbor' protection is only afforded to those who contend that they only operate as a publishing platform ONLINE. (Which is why Facebook is safe from prosecution). The notion is that an online publishing platform cannot be aware of everything posted 100% of the time.
However the protection only applies if a site immediately takes action to remove any copyright infringements as soon as it is made aware of them and has received appropriate proof of infringement. (which is why you need to serve a DMCA notice on the host if you see an image of yours online - see What to do about copyright infringement - for artists).
What's different about this court decision
What's different about this court decision is it states that when publication of images by an online platform moves into the production of tangible goods based on those images then the online service provider has the right and responsibility to protect creators from copyright infringement and hence can also become liable for any copyright infringement.
In other words in order for Zazzle to be protected by the DMCA's safe harbor provisions (relating to storing images of GYP's copyrighted paintings) - the provisions of 17 U.S. Code § 512 - Limitations on liability relating to material online required that Zazzle had to:
For the record, this is the Zazzle Copyright Policy. I'm guessing it might be rewritten by the lawyers in the future to pass liability for any costs awarded against Zazzle to the user - and make this explicit to every user of Zazzle.
This judgement has very considerable ramifications for:
Interestingly there is no press release about the Court Judgement on the Zazzle website and no blog post either. I'm unclear as to whether there is going to be an appeal although I understand the level of damages are likely to be contested further.
In effect, the court sets up a double standard: physical vs. digital. Zazzle is protected if users upload infringing images but not if customersdecide they want a copy of this image on a t-shirt or poster.
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Katherine Tyrrell writes about art, artists and the art business and has followers all over the world. She also delivers workshops for art organisations and reviews websites and career strategies for artists.
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