Everything you need to know about DMCA

Active development of electronic technology and the internet has simplified life of information pirates and plagiaries. Today everybody can easily copy, duplicate and distribute other people’s intellectual products. In order to control this situation in 1996 the World Intellectual Property Organization developed the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) as well as the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT). These documents formed the basis for international laws protecting copyright and regulating relationship between rights holders, intermediaries and consumers of intellectual products.

United States went even further and supplemented these two treaties with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Its main purpose is to ensure relevance and effectiveness of the two previous documents.

Principal theses of DMCA

The DMCA protects copyright and forbids free copying, printing or distribution of intellectual products through the internet. In addition, the document provides criminal liability for illegal usage of intellectual property.

The DMCA also involves notes about responsibility for the creation and diffusion of technological means used for copyright infringement. The law prohibits any changes in the intellectual product structure (for example, you cannot edit the text of a literary work or break the original program code).

Another important feature of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act relates to limited opportunities for products usage in the context of fair use. The document specifies the protection system for internet providers called safe harbor. Let’s consider these terms in more detail.

  • Fair use is a legal mechanism prepared for slight limitation of copyright action. Users can take intellectual products without obtaining respective rights. Fair use makes the unauthorized property usage possible, but only for research purposes or for the development of art.
  • Safe harbor indicates a legal mechanism that protects internet providers from responsibility for the DMCA infringement. Mediators shift the liability for copyright infringement to users. For example, a video-sharing website YouTube is not responsible for publication of pirated film copies, if it is uploaded to the resource by one of the video hosting users. Nevertheless, the service must immediately delete pirated content if the legal owner wants so.
The DMCA opponents think the law strongly limits the principle of fair use
The DMCA opponents think the law strongly limits the principle of fair use

The DMCA counterparts in different countries

Leading world countries, including the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland and other EU states have also implemented the WIPO Treaty on Copyright and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty. In particular, copyright issues in the EU states are regulated by the EU Copyright Directive and the EU Data Protection Directive. These documents protect internet providers from liability for the transmission of information that violates copyright. These legal acts also allow libraries, educational institutions, archives and museums to copy intellectual products and to use them for non-commercial purposes.

The majority of EU countries (Germany, Austria, Italy and the UK) implemented the Copyright Directive only after 2003. Greece and Denmark were first to accept this law. Other EU countries have taken appropriate changes even later.

National copyright laws in different states have specific features of their own despite the compliance with legal acts of the WIPO. Here are some of them:

  • Copyright Law of the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth nations confirms the legal concept of fair dealing, similar to the doctrine of fair use in the United States. However, fair dealing stays more loyal to right holders than fair use.
  • The New Zealand law also protects internet providers with the safe harbor mechanism, shifting the responsibility for copyright infringement to users. But ISPs are obliged to notify users about the violation of authors’ right. The authorities can penalize individuals who have already received three warnings and disconnect them from the internet for up to 6 months.
  • Ireland formally comply with the EU copyright legislation. The government of Ireland often face accusations of unwillingness to defend the rights holders’ interests. For example, recently EMI Records litigated with the Irish government, accusing it of violating the EC Copyright Directive.
  • The Copyright Act of Germany involves imprisonment (for up to three years) for downloading illegal movies copies from peer networks.

The DMCA and similar laws in different countries all around the world comply with the principles of the Berne Convention. This means that every intelligent product is automatically protected from the moment of its creation. Yet authors should better use a copyright notice in order to protect their interests. For protection, you can use special software like Visual Watermark. By the help of this program, you could quickly put a watermark to the whole image collection.

Note of copyright infringement on YouTube
Note of copyright infringement on YouTube

Attitudes of users, creators and rights holders to the DMCA differ a lot. It varies from total denying and accusations of unfree information use to statements that the internet would not exist without the DMCA. In fact, this legal act is just an attempt to protect the interests of U.S. rights holders and users, as Bill Clinton said while signing the DMCA. And only time will reveal how successful this attempt would be.