Digital Millennium Copyright Act – DMCA

DMCA, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, was passed by the US Congress on October 12, 1998 and was enacted as law by President Clinton on October 28, 1998. According to Clinton, the bill was created to protect intellectual property in the online arena. It was also to expand upon the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) conference treaties from 1996. And while many groups such as the music industry and software suppliers welcomed the law, many others felt that it meant to undermine legitimate research and education by making criminals of librarians, scientists and other academicians.

The law specifically makes it a crime to try and subvert security and passcodes in software. For example, code-cracks found on the internet are illegal. Code cracking is when one person gets a copy of a licensed software and figures out a way to give it to others for free. They either no longer need the “key”, or the person (the one who cracks the code) supplies a set of keys so that others can install the software and use it.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act further states that licensing fees must be paid to record companies when internet radio stations and even individuals play music on their sites. It also makes provisions for people using copyrighted material on their websites. ISPs (internet service providers) will not be penalized or found liable just by providing the lines for their clients to use, but if they are notified of an issue, they are bound to take action, and either have the customer remove the material or do it themselves if the customer does not comply. Web hosting is along the same lines. If a DMCA is sent to web hosting companies, they are required to take a proactive stance.

Surprisingly the act even went as far as to require recommendations from the Register of Copyrights on how to deal with online education using digital means of distribution. The issue here was acquiring the right mix between protecting copyright owners, and making information available to the end users. An example might be a textbook. When you attend a physical class at a college, you buy your own books on the campus. Everything is legal because you have purchased the books for your own use. But what happens when the school emails or makes available in their online database, excerpts or copies of segments of the books? Is this legal?

Apparently what bothers civil libertarians is the fact that professors, as an example, may dissect data or software with the express purpose of discovering vulnerabilities. There is no intent to steal or use the material in an illegal manner. In fact, they believe the research is in the best interests of the copyright holder. But, there is the real possibility for a corporation to have them charged with performing illegal activities.

Finally, there does seem to be some dispute about who is responsible for the policing. If web hosts and ISPs are required to take down offending sites and material, who is to say the person involved was guilty of any wrong doing? On the other side of the debate, and the reason for the law in the first place, is that plagarism, theft of content, and profiting from other people’s works and tangible assets is just plain criminal.

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