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If a person were to setup a blog and got a few of their friends to also post on this blog. Who is to blame if one of those people were to get hit with a lawsuit for copyright infringement?

Since this is not a registered business, or even a business, is the owner of the domain going to be the target of the lawsuit or is it the individual who stole and published copyright protected work?

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This basically is about the legal responsibility a web-site owner has for user-created content that violate copyright or other laws (such as libel laws).

In the USA, this situation is covered by the DMCA. In the EU, this situation is covered by the e-commerce directive. In other jurisdictions, other regulation may apply.

The DMCA (USA) is the simplest of those regulations. It stipulates a protocol of Notice and takedown. A web-site owner that complies with this protocol is given Save Harbour. This means that a compliant web-site owner cannot be sued. This goes both for a web-site that is a registered business, and a site run by an individual.

The owner of the IP may, however, take the individual who stole and published copyright protected work to court, and will do probably do so if the financial loss was substantial (e.g. a major motion picture was leaked before hitting the cinemas).

In the EU, the law is much less explicit than in the USA. Basically, the Notice and takedown protocol works like in the USA, but since it is not part of the law, it is less formal. In the USA, you can safely not act on any complaint that does not strictly follow the protocol (you just have to give feedback so they can fix it). Not so in the EU. And as follows from Delfi AS vs. Estonia, you can be sued even if you take down stuff. In particular if you create an environment for anonymous postings that encourage transgressions and have no means of moderation in place.

So if the web-site is located in the EU, the website owner need to exercise more caution when he lets friends publish content, than when a website owner in the USA.

  • Unfortunately this is EU based. However I have a decent understanding of how the DMCA process works. At least the process of it and not so much the legal side of thing. It makes sense since sites like Reddit, Facebook etc would never survive otherwise. Do these laws still apply to hobby sites and non registered businesses? Like say I make a free message board website for the fun because I love collecting stamps. Someone posts up a picture from some photographer and he kicks up a fuss over it. What happens? Am I still responsible for the users actions in the same way a business would be? – Dan Hastings May 11 '18 at 15:31
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    Updated answer to reflect the EU law and case history. – Free Radical May 11 '18 at 15:45
  • If the friends can make posts, there is a good case to be made that they are owners or authors rather than users of a blog. Then the question becomes whether it is a general partnership in which everyone with blog posting authority has joint and several liability, or an unincorporated non-profit, in which case there is no vicarious liability beyond the sole asset of the blog which is the blog itself, or the registrant's proprietorship although the author of the post has non-vicarious liability. This would hinge on whether the blog is operated for profit. One more reason not to have blog ads. – ohwilleke May 11 '18 at 17:16
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    "In the USA, you can safely ignore any complaint that does not strictly follow the protocol." - You can't always safely just ignore it. If they provide contact information and a description of the alleged infringement, but not the required statements of good faith and authorization and electronic signature, then to keep immunity you need to contact them and let them know, so they can fix it. See 17 U.S. Code § 512(c)(3)(B)(ii). – D M May 11 '18 at 19:53
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I'm going to guess that it depends on who the lawsuit is filed against. If there's an article on the blog written by Mr Joe Blogger and perhaps contains something against a company that isn't true / is slanderous, then they have 2 options:

  • If they file against the website itself, the registered owner of the site would be the primary target in the crosshairs. The suit is against the website's owner.
  • If they filed against the person who posted the blog, the site is simply an involved party, not the defendant directly. The suit is against Mr Joe Blogger.
  • Would the first possibility stand up in court? Does owning a web domain automatically make the owner responsible for any defamation or copyright issues that other users are responsible for? I know this is a yes if it's the website of a registered business but when it's a hobby site can the same rules apply? – Dan Hastings May 11 '18 at 13:55
  • If the lawsuit is filed against the website directly, then it's the registered owner of the website that is held responsible. However, you can pass this responsibility onto your users via the T&Cs. For example, most forums will ask you use common sense when posting and inform you that the website will not accept responsibility for anything you say - your opinions are your own and you accept any consequences incurred as a result of posting them. As long as you get users to accept responsibility for their posts, you can't be sued for their actions without establishing a pattern – Horkrine May 11 '18 at 14:14
  • However, as the website owner you must to the best of your ability prevent your users from posting any defaming comments or hosting any content that infringes copyrighted content etc. Just because your users accept the T&Cs when they host illegal movies, doesn't absolve you of all responsiblity – Horkrine May 11 '18 at 14:16
  • Right I get what you mean. So technically, by registering a domain you are treated as a business from a legal standpoint. Even if the website doesn't live under the ownership of an LLC, the owner has to take on the responsibility for the events that take place under that domain name – Dan Hastings May 11 '18 at 14:26

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