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Suppose that there is a website hosted in USA, with most of its users in the USA. The website is owned by a Canadian corporation.

Suppose that the website allows users to create videos using their mobile devices. These videos are then exhibited on the website at a publicly-accessible but obfuscated url (ie. you can't browse to it or search it to find it, but once you have the link anyone can share it). The videos are recorded without sound and are always less than 30 seconds long. We host the videos.

Question: if the website operators allow users to add any music they want to the video, and they add something they don't have a license for (Jay-Z or whatever), is this illegal, and if so is the website/corporation liable?

I see this happening on Tiktok a lot so maybe in the USA it is even ok to do this if the videos are as short as ours?

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In US law this is covered by 17 USC 512 (c) which was added to the US copyright law by the Digital Millineum Copyright Act (DMCA)

Under that law, the service provide is not liable if

  1. The service provider does not actually know that content posted is infringing; and

  2. The provider does not have good reason to belive that content is infringing; and

  3. The provider promptly removes or makes inaccessible infringing content once the provider knows or has reason to believe that content is infringing; and

  4. The provider complies with the DMCA take down procedure; and

  5. The provider has and publishes the contact info of a designated agent to receive complaints and takedown notices.

(The above is a paraphrase of the actual text of the law, rewritten for clarity.)

The above is all true no matter how short or long the videos or music selections may be. The length is not relevant, except as it may affect a claim fgor fair use, where length is only one of the factors to be considered. The above would also apply if the video, as opposed to the music, was a copyright infringement.

Note that the individual poster can still be liable for copyright infringement, and the service provider may be required to respond to a subpoena for information identifying posters. Note also that a service provider must warn posters not to post content protected by copyright to which the poster has no rights, and must have some procedure in place to limit or cancel the access of posters who persistently post infringing content.

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