What Is The DMCA?


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No, it’s not the name for Run DMC before they brought on Reverend Run and fired Amos, their well-meaning but ill-suited hillbilly friend.

The DMCA was an amendment passed in congress back in 1998.  It stands for Digital Millenium Copyright Act.  William Jefferson Clinton signed this bad boy back when everyone was worried the music industry would come to a screeching halt.

The DMCA made the creation or use of software that allows people to access copy-protected works illegal.  This means intellectual property like music, software, movies and more were in theory protected from illegal digital distribution.

The goal was to put an end, or at least excessively prohibit, online piracy.

Another important aspect of the DMCA is that it limited the responsibility of Internet Service Providers (ISPs).  This means that Time Warner Cable and Comcast couldn’t get busted if a bunch of their users downloaded Limewire and began collecting nefarious downloads.

The DMCA suffers criticism however.

Many people assert that the DMCA allows the publishers of copyrighted work to have too much control and doesn’t technically allow people to say, give their old computer to someone with all their music on it (even though they’re not pirating the music, they’re technically violating the DMCA).

This is in conflict with the Copyright Act, which gives first right of sale to anyone who has legally purchased copy-protected works.

Some also criticize the music and film industries for lobbying so hard for the DMCA.

Examples of arguments against the DMCA state “the cassette tape didn’t kill vinyl” and “VCR’s didn’t kill the movie business” – which is true.  These people are concerned about how aggressive a record label or music publisher may be against someone who simply wants to sell their old iPod.

The DMCA comes up for review every three years to determine whether any new exemptions should be added.  In 2006, circumventing copy protection was exempted for folks involved in archival, research, and security testing activities. More recently, the unlocking of cell phones has been made exempt as well.

Due to the rapid changes in technology and how music is acquired and shared, the DMCA will continue to play a critical role in copyright law and music specifically.  While it is also the cause of much debate and some grey area, it remains an important part of U.S. copyright legislation and protection.

Andy Lykens is a music branding and marketing specialist for Imagem Music, the world’s largest independent music publisher. Follow him here.


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