DMCA: Ten Years of Unintended Consequences
Today is the tenth anniversary of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), signed into law by President Bill Clinton on October 28, 1998. EFF is marking the occasion with the release of a 19-page report that focuses on the most notorious part of the law: the ban on "circumventing" digital rights management (DRM) and other "technological protection measures." The report, entitled Unintended Consequences: Ten Years Under the DMCA, collects reported cases where the DMCA was used not against copyright infringers, but instead against consumers, scientists and legitimate competitors.
The collected stories are like a trip down memory lane for those who have followed digital freedom issues over the past decade. Here are a few examples of DMCA abuse in the report that you might remember:
- In 1999, Sony sues Connectix over the Virtual Game Station, which let you play your legit Playstation games on your Macintosh.
- In 2001, the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) threatens Princeton Professor Ed Felten's research team over disclosure of vulnerabilities in audio watermarking technology.
- In 2001, Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov is arrested after speaking at Defcon, accused of building software for his employer, ElcomSoft, that converted Adobe e-books to PDF.
- In 2002, Blizzard sues a group of hobbyist open source developers over bnetd, server software that allows people to play Blizzard games against each other over the Internet.
- In 2003, Lexmark uses the DMCA to block distribution of chips that allow refilling of laser toner cartridges.
- In 2004, Hollywood succeeds in shutting down 321 Studios' DVD X Copy software, which allowed people to make backup copies of their own DVDs.
- In 2006, computer security researchers at Princeton delay disclosure of the Sony-BMG "rootkit" based on fears of DMCA liability.
- In 2008, Hollywood targets Real Networks over RealDVD, software that allows you to copy DVDs to a hard drive for later viewing.
The collection of stories makes vividly clear what EFF has been saying for the past ten years: the DMCA has harmed fair use, free speech, scientific research, and legitimate competition.
That's all the more galling because the law has failed in its stated goal of preventing digital piracy, instead being used to prop up weak DRM schemes whose only purpose is to hinder competition, innovation, and interoperability. That explains why the music industry has largely abandoned DRM, while the Hollywood studios cling to it more fervently than ever.
Not everything in the DMCA is bad. While the anti-circumvention provisions have proven to be a dangerous failure, the so-called "safe harbor" provisions for online service providers have succeeded in creating enough legal certainty to launch companies like Yahoo, Google, eBay, YouTube, and MySpace. Of course, copyright owners have been working hard in cases like Viacom v. YouTube and Io v. Veoh to erode these safe harbors. And, while the safe harbors have protected intermediaries like Google, they have not adequately protected the free speech interests of internet users, as the McCain-Palin campaign recently learned.
There have been recent rumors that the new Congress might reopen the DMCA, creating an opportunity for reform. Unfortunately, that may also create an opportunity for MPAA and RIAA mischief. For now, here's hoping that the DRM continues its slow death and the anti-circumvention provisions become less relevant to real businesses, while the courts continue to interpret the safe harbors to leave a door open to the Internet's disruptive innovators.
Recent DeepLinks Posts
Nov 25, 2015
Nov 25, 2015
Nov 25, 2015
Nov 24, 2015
Nov 23, 2015
- Fair Use and Intellectual Property: Defending the Balance
- Free Speech
- Know Your Rights
- Trade Agreements and Digital Rights
- State-Sponsored Malware
- Abortion Reporting
- Analog Hole
- Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement
- Bloggers' Rights
- Broadcast Flag
- Broadcasting Treaty
- Cell Tracking
- Coders' Rights Project
- Computer Fraud And Abuse Act Reform
- Content Blocking
- Copyright Trolls
- Council of Europe
- Cyber Security Legislation
- Defend Your Right to Repair!
- Development Agenda
- Digital Books
- Digital Radio
- Digital Video
- DMCA Rulemaking
- Do Not Track
- E-Voting Rights
- EFF Europe
- Encrypting the Web
- Export Controls
- FAQs for Lodsys Targets
- File Sharing
- Fixing Copyright? The 2013-2015 Copyright Review Process
- Genetic Information Privacy
- Hollywood v. DVD
- How Patents Hinder Innovation (Graphic)
- International Privacy Standards
- Internet Governance Forum
- Law Enforcement Access
- Legislative Solutions for Patent Reform
- Locational Privacy
- Mandatory Data Retention
- Mandatory National IDs and Biometric Databases
- Mass Surveillance Technologies
- Medical Privacy
- National Security and Medical Information
- National Security Letters
- Net Neutrality
- No Downtime for Free Speech
- NSA Spying
- Offline : Imprisoned Bloggers and Technologists
- Online Behavioral Tracking
- Open Access
- Open Wireless
- Patent Busting Project
- Patent Trolls
- PATRIOT Act
- Pen Trap
- Policy Analysis
- Public Health Reporting and Hospital Discharge Data
- Reading Accessibility
- Real ID
- Search Engines
- Search Incident to Arrest
- Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act
- Social Networks
- SOPA/PIPA: Internet Blacklist Legislation
- Student and Community Organizing
- Stupid Patent of the Month
- Surveillance and Human Rights
- Surveillance Drones
- Terms Of (Ab)Use
- Test Your ISP
- The "Six Strikes" Copyright Surveillance Machine
- The Global Network Initiative
- The Law and Medical Privacy
- TPP's Copyright Trap
- Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement
- Travel Screening
- Trusted Computing
- Video Games