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On October 28, 1998, President Bill Clinton signed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) into law. The DMCA designated Internet service providers (the ISPs that connect consumers to the internet) and websites (and other online service providers) as “safe harbors.”
What does it mean to be a “safe harbor?” It means that YouTube is not held responsible when your niece uploads an unauthorized video clip of a Hannah Montana TV show, as long as YouTube cooperates with the actual owners of the clip if they ask that it be taken down. This “safe harbor” provision is often taken for granted, but its importance cannot be underestimated; no website could allow users to post videos, pictures, or even words if the website owner were held responsible for the content of each post.
In order to keep “safe harbor” status, a website or ISP must not knowingly host or provide access to unauthorized copies of a copyright work. In addition, when an ISP or website is notified by the real owner of a copyrighted work that they are providing access to infringing content, a website or ISP must quickly remove the content or block access to it.
Public Knowledge’s Position
Public Knowledge supports measures to uphold the “safe harbor” provision of the DMCA, but finds the “anti-circumvention” rules problematic. These rules dilute limitations on copyright—if you “circumvent” a digital lock (like DRM) on a copyrighted work for any reason, even if the use is protected under fair use, you are still violating the DMCA.
There is a special exemptions process (referred to as “1201”), but this is only every 3 years, it isn’t guaranteed, and you have to re-apply. This is huge burden, for example, on the blind community: In order to convert e-books into audio files, a “digital lock” must be broken. If they didn’t apply for a DMCA exemption every 3 years, they would be breaking federal law.
This is the perfect example of a policy that increases IP enforcement without regard for increased limitations to maintain a balance. Public Knowledge didn’t exist when the DMCA was enacted, but we work our hardest to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen again.
What you can do to help
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- Give policy makers a piece of your mind: act now.
For more information
- Watch all 9 episodes of the series in 10 Years of the DMCA