The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, passed in 2000, contains two controversial
provisions – “anti-circumvention” and “safe-harbor”. The DMCA was intended to tackle the issue of internet piracy which involves the illegal downloading of music, videos, books, and other copyrighted material. Piracy is the chief target of the DMCA, but the law has had little success in actually deterring pirates from accessing copyrighted material for free. In fact, the DMCA provisions have had some negative effects on fair use and competition within affected industries.
The “anti-circumvention” provision of the DMCA aimed to stop copyright pirates from circumventing the locks in place that protect copyrighted material. While the intention is understandable, the effects haven’t been quite so straightforward. The provision has impeded competition by essentially ignoring fair use and over protecting copyrighted material. If a person circumvents copyright restrictions for purposes that fall under the category of fair use, he or she can still be prosecuted on the basis that circumvention has occurred. In addition, developers of tools that provide the ability to circumvent the locks in place are also liable to be prosecuted without even performing the act of circumvention. As a result, the DMCA “anti-circumvention” provision has extended the arm of the law enough for legislators to circumvent inherit freedoms that are protected by fair use.
The “safe-harbor” provision appears to be both helpful and harmful with respect to the copyright dilemma. While this provision allows companies like YouTube to create an open space for the sharing of content, the language is subject to abuse. For instance, the takedown policy can be abused to restrict material on the web that may not be in violation of copyright laws. For instance, the mother’s video of her daughter singing a song by Prince should never have been able to be taken down, but a request by Universal Music was enough to force YouTube to remove the video until legal actions were pursued. Since the video was obviously in compliance with fair use, the fact that YouTube was legally bound to take it down because of Universal Music’s request is absurd. Universal Music even claimed that they did not take into account fair use before requesting the take down. On the other hand, the “safe-harbor” provisions allow spaces like YouTube to exist because they are not liable for the instances in which users upload copyrighted material as long as they comply with take down requests. Therefore, I am understanding of the necessity of this provision despite the negative consequences that can result from abuse of its language.
I personally do not think it is ethical to download copyrighted material from the internet. The sampling/testing excuse is not valid, in my opinion, because most sites that provide legal purchasing of copyrighted material allow you to sample the content. If you use a site that does not provide content samples, then you should look for another online vendor. I believe that copyrights should be respected by consumers because in many cases artists make a living on the copyright protection of their work. Admittedly, I was an avid user of LimeWire as a kid, downloading any song I wanted to at the expense of rapidly decreasing my computer’s performance over time. At the time, my excuse was that I could not afford to pay 99¢ a song and the rich musicians were not even remotely affected by my decision. However, I now understand that large scale piracy does affect the prosperity of musicians, especially up and coming artists who may rely on early revenues to jump start their careers. Looking back, I wish I would have been more respectful of copyrighted material.
I believe the emergence of streaming services such as Netflix, Spotify, and Pandora will reduce the amount of piracy. Personally, I have benefitted from these technologies because of the affordable, quality streams they provide. Since Netflix and can provide high-definition streams at such a low price, I believe this discourages individuals from using free streaming websites that provide less than desirable video quality. In addition, the abundance of content available on Spotify and Pandora allows for users to have the wide variety of music they desire but do not own. Unless you desperately need to listen to Taylor Swift, I think Spotify is adequate… plus her claim to be defending up and coming artists is nonsense – she’s just maximizing her profits (pardon the aside).
To wrap this blog up, I’d like to acknowledge the usefulness of the DCMA while also recognizing the flaws in its language. Like many other laws, the DCMA has been subject to abuse, but overall I believe it has been effective in created open spaces for sharing such as YouTube and discouraging piracy.