Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Review -- "10 Years Later, Misunderstood DMCA is the Law That Saved the Web"

For direct link to article, click entry title.

This article was a complete 180-degree turnaround from all the smack-talk that usually revolves around the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act). What was most surprising was that I found myself not disagreeing with most of the article's points regarding the fact that I first approached it with more than a few grains of salt. Anyway, I think it was written almost as a celebration of its 10-year anniversary since its passing into legislation.

The explosion of numerous e-commerce websites (e.g.: eBay), media and file share sources (e.g.: YouTube, purevolume), online social networks (e.g.: MySpace, Facebook), and blogs (e.g.: Blogger, Xanga, Wordpress, LiveJournal, Blogspot.. you get the idea) can be widely attributed to the enaction of the DMCA. It's pointed out in the article that before the DMCA and all it's strings concerning the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) and DRM (Digital Rights Management), they wasn't really any need for these free, open-source, file-sharing, copyright-infringement-sidestepping innovations. In 1998, ten years ago, even the idea of YouTube or Facebook had yet to have been conceived. Apparently, we are to thank the DMCA for the success of today's most popular websites, as they technically are the ones in charge of pushing web-users into thinking outside of the box. Another likeable aspect of the DMCA was is that, although one of its main components is to protect those who have copyrighted property, it also protects online forums/blogs such as Wordpress and Digg from being sued to oblivion.. is the general idea for why we should be grateful the DMCA exists.

There are two major components of the DMCA that helped the boom of these sites that provide users with a copyright-entangled free environment: (1) the anti-circumvention rules, and (2) takedown notices.
(1) Anti-circumvention
The rule pretty much speaks for itself. This section of the DMCA bill was added so that the intellectual, and very copyrighted, property of the movie/music industry (Hollywood in general) wouldn't be infringed on a massive scale online. Examples of infringing would be uploading movies and music online, and downloading movies and music online. I read over the actual section of the legislation concerning the anti-circumvention rule, but it's really tedious and chalk full of all this legal vocabulary, so I'll sum it up for you like this: the purpose of the anti-circumvention rule was made to prevent consumers from side-stepping around copy protection and copyright rules to do things like upload copyrighted material onto the web, and then download them for free from other users. Makes sense, right?
Another component of the anti-circumvention rule is that it provides ISPs (Internet Service Providers) with an almost complete immunity for the property violations committed by their users. This means that even if you're being a huge pirate under your YouTube account, you are the only person who is responsible for your actions; not Youtube. What does that entail? ISPs not caring at all about what their users do with the service they are being provided, and that consequently opened up infinite speech and business opportunities for users, both recognized by the web and unrecognized.

(2) Takedown notice
The article goes on to say that the takedown notice component of the DMCA was even more essential to the exponential growth of the internet. Again, this component provides immunity to ISPs such as YouTube for any copyright violations committed by their users. The catch: they are only granted immunity if they promptly remove or "take down" material uploaded to their site if the claimed copyright holder sends the company a "takedown notice". Simple. Now when you search for a certain YouTube video, and your search says it's been "removed due to infringement", you'll know why. However, it can restore the took.. down(?) content if the user proves that it's not infringing anyone's copyrighted property, and the person who claims to have been violated fails/does not sue.

Fred von Lohmann, an internet attorney, says this about the two components of the DMCA:
"These two protections for intermediaries have been absolutely crucial for giving us the internet today. [...] You could not run a blog without these. You couldn't run MySpace, AOL without these two things."

Bottom lines:
1) Intermediaries totally depend on these immunities
2) Their immunities allowed for the burst of most of the websites we use everyday.

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