WHAT IS THE DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act)
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a law, signed by U.S. President Bill Clinton on October 28, 1998, illegalizing the use of technology to circumvent DRM (Digital Rights Management) protection measures on copyrighted works. It also illegalized the development of such technology, its promotion, or wilfully making it available to anyone. It also served to limit the extent to which internet service providers can be held accountable for copyright violations committed by their users, over whom they have no control.
The Act was largely a result of pressure from companies that depend on sale of digital intellectual property to generate earnings. These include record labels, software companies etc. Such companies were seeing rapidly declining profits due, largely, to a practice called file sharing. A user could purchase one copy of software, or perhaps a song, and pass it around very easily to a number of others who would otherwise (as argued by the companies) have bought the property from them. They claimed billions of dollars in lost profits and campaigned very hard to have laws put in place to stop such violations.
Recording companies had already implemented measures to protect their intellectual property but applications were being developed that could circumvent these security measures and allow unrestricted file sharing. One such software was Napster, a particularly high profile application that turned the music industry upside down. It allowed users to share their music freely without going through a centralized server, providing for unlimited media sharing. The application had a devastating effect of the profits of record companies who, in turn, made an example of Napster by taking legal action against its creator – Shawn Fanning. Some time later, Napster was found to be in violation of the DMCA and ordered to shut down.
The DMCA also cracked down on other software, designed to aid in the illegal copying of software, such as code breakers and applications that disable built-in DRM technology. The Act does not, however, prevent the cracking of such DRM devices for research purposes – specifically encryption research, testing of security systems and the assessment of interoperability between products.
As for the internet service providers, although the Act does limit their liability for merely transmitting the data (given the impossible nature of checking every packet of data for copyright infringement), they are, however, required to remove any material, that they suspect to be in violation of intellectual property rights, from their servers.
In short, the DMCA was a move long-awaited by “victim” companies but it was not without its opponents. In particular, scientists, librarians, the open source software community and other liberals in information related fields were strongly against such a crackdown on freedom. Nevertheless, it remains in effect and serves as a legal backing for companies, whose intellectual property remains all over the internet, as they attempt to eradicate illegal file sharing in all its forms.