“Safe Harbors”

A clearly defined set of circumstances or actions with respect to a particular law that shield the actor from liability.

A law with safe harbors says “These things will make you liable, but if you do “this”, then you are guaranteed to be safe". Safe harbors play an important role in areas of the law that are primarily governed by guidelines (which ultimately need to be interpreted by a court) , rather than rules. Since many people may lack the resources or legal sophistication to know or find out if their behavior is legal, a safe harbor provides certainty.

In the context of copyright law, although it is also used as a generic term for the limits of “safe” activity”, safe harbors are most often encountered with respect to Section 512 of the United States’ Digital Millennium Copyright Act, “Limitations on liability relating to material online”, which describes various ways in which Internet content providers can ensure that they will avoid liability for the behavior of their users and patrons. The most important of these is the “notice and takedown” proceeding.

Note: “Safe harbor” may also refer to a U.S. – EU agreement regarding the safety and privacy of personal data and databases.

See also:

  • DMCA
  • Notice and Takedown
  • Cease and Desist

Other resources:

» Glossary