For more than two decades, internet service providers (ISPs) in the United States, the European Union (EU), and many other countries have been shielded from copyright liability under “safe harbor” rules. These rules apply to ISPs who did not know about or participate in user-uploaded infringements and who take infringing content down after receiving notice from rights holders. Major copyright industry groups were never satisfied with these safe harbors, and their dissatisfaction has become more strident over time as online infringements have grown to scale.

Responding to copyright industry complaints, the EU in 2019 adopted its Directive on Copyright and Related Rights in the Digital Single Market. In particular, the Directive’s Article 17 places much stricter obligations on for-profit ISPs that host large amounts of user contents. Article 17 is internally contradictory, deeply ambiguous, and harmful to small and medium-sized companies as well as to user freedoms of expression. Moreover, Article 17 may well violate the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.

In the United States, Congress commenced a series of hearings in 2020 on the safe harbor rules now codified as 17 U.S.C. § 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). In May 2020, the U.S. Copyright Office issued its long-awaited study on Section 512, which recommended several significant changes to existing safe harbor rules. The Study’s almost exclusively pro–copyright industry stances on reform of virtually every aspect of the rules notably shortchanges other stakeholder interests.

Congress should take a balanced approach in considering any changes to the DMCA safe harbor rules. Any meaningful reform of ISP liability rules should consider the interests of a wide range of stakeholders. This includes U.S.-based Internet platforms, smaller and medium-sized ISPs, startups, and the hundreds of millions of Internet users who create and enjoy user-generated content (UGC) uploaded to these platforms, as well as the interests of major copyright industries and individual creators who have been dissatisfied with the DMCA safe harbor rules.