October 29, 2008 | By Fred von Lohmann

The Two Best Books About the DMCA

The blogosphere is doing a great job examining the legacy of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which was enacted into law ten years ago this week. But people frequently ask me where they can turn for a more in-depth analysis of the DMCA, DRM, and their impact on digital culture. For them, there are two books I recommend first and foremost.

First, there is Jessica Litman's Digital Copyright, which does a masterful job explaining how the DMCA (and much of the rest of our copyright law) came to be. Tracing the law from its beginnings in the internal bureaucracy of the Clinton administration in 1992, over to the international treaty realm of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and back to Congress, her account lays bare the political realities that produced a law that put corporate interests before the public interest.

Second, there is Tarleton Gillespie's Wired Shut, which picks up where Digital Copyright leaves off, tracing how the DMCA has been used as part of a larger effort to use technology and law to "weld the hood shut" on new digital devices. Tarleton's book is a bit more academic in tone than Jessica's, but at the heart of it are three fantastic chapters than provide a full historical accounting of the controversies surrounding (1) SDMI (chapter 5); (2) the development of CSS, used to encrypt DVDs (chapter 6); and (3) the broadcast flag for digital broadcast television (chapter 7). For those who want to get right to the action, I recommend starting at Chapter 5. EFF was deeply involved in all three of these watershed digital controversies, so to some degree these chapters are also a history of our digital copyright efforts.

If you want to understand what the DMCA does, and how we ended up with it as the law of the land, these two books are where to start.


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