How the DMCA Affects Us

Scholars and computer programmers are up in arms about something called the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, a law signed into existance in 1998. They're getting angry and scared because some of them have been censored and one of them has recently been put in jail in the U.S. for violating it.

As a law dealing primarily with crimes related to thought and speech, the DMCA is probably not exciting enough to be covered in the news on your living room television set any time soon. It does not appear to be a mainstream issue. This is too bad because if left unchanged, the DMCA is going to affect all of us (and our libraries) in profound and negative ways.

The DMCA gives publishers the power to prevent you from printing a page, loaning a book to your friends or in some cases, even reading it out loud. For example, if you purchase and download an electronic book from the Internet and figure out how to circumvent the reader software so that you can print it out to read in the bathroom, the DMCA makes what you have done a federal crime, and if you tell anyone how you did it, you can be looking at a fine of up to $500,000 and 5 years in prison. This has happened.

The DMCA gives publishers the power to lock books, songs, and movies up with reader, player, or viewer software, and to threaten anyone who examines the software with legal action. For example, if a computer science professor wants to give a talk to students about how some music encryption software works, he could be censored by being threatened with a lawsuit from a large recording association. This too has happened.

The DMCA affects everyone because it gives corporate publishers absolute control over what we are allowed to do with the literature and music that they publish. The DMCA allows publishers to enclose books that you purchase online and download to your computer in simple software wrappers that can force you to agree to a contract before you can access the book and prevent you from loaning the book, giving it away, printing any of it, reselling it as a used book, or even moving it to a different computer. Even if the software wrapper is easily circumvented, it is illegal to do so. All of this has happened.

The DMCA allows publishers to override the fair use doctrines that are laid out in the U.S. Constitution. Whether the DMCA will be struck down as being unconstitutional remains to be seen, but there is considerable resistance among House and Senate leaders to do anything about this law because of the large amounts of "soft money" donations coming from the music, movie, and publishing industry lobbyists.

"The law is performing the way we hoped."
- Rep. Howard Coble (R-North Carolina), chairman of the House Judiciary's subcommittee on intellectual property.

"We strongly support the DMCA and the enforcement of copyright protection of digital content. However, the prosecution of this individual in this particular case is not conducive to the best interests of any of the parties involved or the industry."
- Colleen Pouliot, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for Adobe Corporation, apparently confused enough about the DMCA to make back-to-back contradictory statements.

To find out more about the DMCA and some people that have been censored and jailed under it, follow these links:

This material is Copyright 2001 by Aaron Logue and has been encrypted using HTML tags, the HTTP protocol and TCP/IP encapsulation to the best of the author's ability. Use of a computer and HTTP encryption circumvention technology such as a web browser to access, store, view, or read this material is expressly forbidden by the author and is in violation of the DMCA. Ha ha! Just kidding, in a cynical sort of way. Please link / copy this at will.