January 6, 2010

Myth 4: The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which is the federal law governing copyright rights in the United States, impedes innovation because copyright owners wield the law to hinder competition and impede access to works.

Fact: Since being passed into law with overwhelming bipartisan support in 1998, the DMCA has allowed consumers to reap the benefits of the digital age. It has effectively protected the rights of copyright holders while allowing the reasonable “fair use” of such works in a way that has enabled the Internet to thrive and knowledge to spread. Indeed, without the DMCA, popular websites such as Google and YouTube may not have succeeded.

For example, the DMCA includes a web-provision that provides ISPs, hosting websites, interactive web browsers and their customers the ability to legally spread ideas across the Internet.  The law also contains a “notice and takedown” provision that allows the Internet to flourish by granting websites like YouTube a legal “safe harbor” from copyright infringement: if these sites quickly remove material that are alleged to violate the rights of a copyright owner through a “takedown notice” to the infringer, then the sites are legally safe in the event it is proven that copyright infringement did occur. This clause has helped reduce the possibility of frivolous lawsuits that could otherwise stifle innovation and impede access.

The circumvention clause in the DMCA is another feature of the law that provides copyright protection for creative works while permitting the legal “circumvention” of access and copy controls for limited purposes. There are seven exemptions under the DMCA that aim to expand public access. Under one exemption, for example, libraries, archives, and educational institutions are given permission to lend copyrighted materials and allow public use.

These are just a couple examples of how the DMCA successfully accomplishes two important objectives at the same time—protecting the rights of copyright holders from piracy and theft while ensuring legitimate public access and fair use of these materials—in a way that promotes innovation, access, and the spread of knowledge.

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