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Overview of the legal provisions

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on December 17, 2006 at 12:13:11 pm

Enacted in 1998, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) responded to the exigency of increasing copyright infractions, particularly due to the growing ease of information sharing. In essence, it functions as an extension of copyright law and was incorporated into Title 17 of the U.S. Code. The legislation is divided into five titles, the first of which implements two treaties from the 1996 World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and includes the infamous provisions that proscribe circumvention. The second title addresses the liability of internet service providers, while the third exempts copies of computer programs for computer maintenance. Title IV covers a number of miscellaneous copyright issues, including those related to education; and finally, Title V establishes the “Vessel Hull Design Protection Act”, creating new standards for the design of vessel hulls1. Hotly contested by groups claiming that sharing restrictions hinder advancements, the DMCA was implemented with the intention of protecting the rights of copyright owners. The DMCA has played a large role in the prosecution of piracy cases, as the internet has spawned numerous websites illegally distributing films, television shows, music and software; even vidding, which involves an individual publishing a set of selected clips to a soundtrack, has come under scrutiny.


Provision I-WIPO Copyright and Performances and Phonograms Treaties Implementation Act of 1998


The DMCA’s first provision, entitled the “WIPO Copyright and Performances and Phonograms Treaties Implementation Act of 1998” contains two parts, the second of which is considered the most controversial component of the DMCA. The first section modified U.S. copyright law to include works produced in the countries that participated in the WIPO Copyright Treaty caucus held in December 1996. WIPO is a specialized agency of the United Nations and according to its mission statement is "dedicated to developing a balanced and accessible international intellectual property system, which rewards creativity, stimulates innovation and contributes to economic development while safeguarding the public interest." These additions merely added technical definitions and references to the treaties within the text.


The second section contains the so-called “anti-circumvention” provisions. According to the text of the legislation, circumvention is defined as “descrambling a scrambled work, to decrypt an encrypted work, or otherwise to bypass, remove, deactivate, or impair a technological measure, without the authority of the copyright owner.” These provisions thus restrict the sale of devices that elude copyright protection systems. According to an August 2004 paper published by the Congressional Budget Office that addressed copyright issues in digital media, “Like the purchaser of a movie ticket, an Internet consumer would have to obtain the copyright owner’s authorization to view the movie by paying for the decryption key needed to view the digitized video file.”6 The DMCA also forbids the manufacturing or trafficking of products that are designed to elude technologies designed to protect copyrighted material.

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