Since it became law in 1998, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has become the avenue for content management for copyright holders, but it is also an easily-deployable weapon for anyone who wants to censor content on the Internet. Let’s take a look at how recent developments are shaping content on the web, for better or for worse.
In short, the DMCA protects “online service providers” from copyright lawsuits if they comply with various parts of the DMCA, including swiftly removing potentially infringing content after receiving a takedown notice from the alleged rights holder. It also provides a mechanism for challenging improper takedowns.
In October, 2015, the U.S. Copyright Office and the Librarian of Congress issued a set of exemptions for the DMCA-as it does every three years. These exemptions basically “allow” people to do what they should already have a right to do under the First Amendment. For example, one exemption grants documentary filmmakers a renewed exemption to DMCA, which includes an expansion of authority for breaking encryption and allowing access to content on Blue-ray, for fair use purposes.(1) Also, now we legally can tinker with our tablets, smart watches and car control systems during the holiday season.(2)
Digging in to the most current DMCA conflicts, back in October, 2015, George Orwell’s Estate issued copyright takedown notices to merchandise seller, Cafepress, for a vaguely-worded reference to copyrights owned by the Orwell estate. The Estate ended up taking a lot of heat for their “Big Brother” approach to sending takedown notices to merchants. However, according to the Estate, it was being blamed for a unilateral decision by Cafepress to takedown every single item of merchandise that might reference any intellectual property owned by the Estate, including anything marked with “1984″, the title of Orwell’s novel “1984,” representative of our current surveillance culture.