What Is the Digital Media Copyright Act?

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The Digital Media Copyright Act, otherwise known as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act or simply the DMCA, is a Federal copyright law that was meant to curb Internet piracy of digital media. The bill passed in the U.S. Senate by unanimous decision on October 12, 1998 and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton seventeen days later.

Since that time, the DMCA has been implemented in many notable court cases and heavily criticized by society. It is essentially the law that made it illegal to download copyrighted digital media such as music, movies, and software, and is what the RIAA and MPAA have used to combat piracy in the courts.


So exactly what is the Digital Media Copyright Act and what’s all the commotion about? Well, the DMCA is still a heated topic today because of its use in the fight against online piracy and its effects on Internet users. This article serves to educate those on what is in the DMCA and how it affects the everyday Internet user.

So What Is the Digital Media Copyright Act?

The DMCA is comprised of five titles and implements two treaties signed at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Geneva conference in 1996. The five titles are as follows:

  • Title I: WIPO Copyright and Performances and Phonograms Treaties Implementation Act
  • Title II: Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act
  • Title III: Computer Maintenance Competition Assurance Act
  • Title IV: Miscellaneous Provisions
  • Title V: Vessel Hull Design Protection Act

Now that’s a lot of legal wordiness and doesn’t really explain the key points of this document. Allow me to translate this for you. I will list the important points made in this law doctrine and cite examples of how they have influenced activity on the Web.

Circumvention

The DMCA restricts the ability to make, sell, or distribute devices which circumvent (or get around) copyright protection. This means you are not allowed to make or use programs that allow users to get by any technical measures that control access to a copyrighted work.

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“It is illegal to manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide, or otherwise traffic in a device or service which is primarily intended to circumvent copyright protection.”

Under this Act, it is illegal for you to “˜crack’ commercial software, sell or distribute any software used for cracking commercial software, or make unauthorized copies of copyrighted DVDs and CDs.

File Sharing

The illegal file-sharing of copyrighted materials is probably the most widely known and openly discussed effect of the Digital Media Copyright Act. It is illegal to host, share, or download copyrighted works, including music, movies, books, software, etc.

what is the digital media copyright act

We have seen a lot of programs/websites over the years fall in the courts under violation of the DMCA (or its backings), most notably Napster, Kazaa, and Limewire.

There is still an ongoing debate over whether or not “˜linking’ to””that is, not hosting yourself””infringing content is illegal. This is primarily the case with torrent websites.

We have seen websites like [NO LONGER WORKS] The Pirate Bay, ISOHunt, and Mininova lose in court because they provide links to infringing material and make file-sharing very easy for peer-to-peer (P2P) users. Although none of the copyright infringing material is physically on their websites, it’s pretty much an aiding and abetting mentality.

Safe Harbor

Title II of the DMCA creates a safe harbor for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) against copyright liability if they meet the guidelines and block access to””or remove””allegedly infringing material after receiving notification from the copyright holder.

what is the digital media copyright act

A safe harbor is a legal term that means as long as the ISPs comply with the copyright holder’s request (and take down the material) then they will not be held legally accountable for the infringing material.

We’ve seen this on YouTube. Have you ever come across a video that has been “removed at the request of the copyright holder”? Most recently, we’ve had to witness the death (and rebirth!) of the “˜Rick Roll‘ on YouTube.

This provision of the DMCA has been openly criticized for making it too easy for copyright owners to take down infringing content and links, alleging that often times the material that is removed might not actually be infringing in the first place.

Conclusion

In summary, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act lays the groundwork for all Internet-related copyright law and is the basis that a lot of court cases and online activities are carried out on.

The document does have other miscellaneous provisions and sections attached to it, like the modified section in Title III, which states that those repairing computers are allowed to make certain, temporary copies of materials while working, but the three things covered in this article (circumvention, file-sharing, and safe harbor) are the primary effects of this Act and constitute the majority of actions and criticisms that this law has undertaken.

What do you think of the DMCA? How has it affected your actions online? Do you pay for digital music and movies or download them for free? Are you a pirate?

Leave your comments below!

Image Credit: Horia Varlan, everyskyline, mkwilbur

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