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History and Overview of the DMCA

Copyrights provide an important protection to authors and artists who create original works that are fixed in a tangible form, such as a painting on canvas. When the creator of a work copyrights his or her work, it gives the creator certain exclusive rights. These rights allow the author or artist to preserve the originality of the work and enjoy the benefits of the work's success without the fear of having someone else copy the work. The copyright owner also has the right to authorize others to perform the exclusive rights or transfer his or her rights to others.

As technology changes, laws must change as well. For example, the Internet has made sharing copyrighted works much easier, effectively diminishing the protections provided by copyrights. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is an amendment to the copyright laws of the United States, which was enacted in response to the apparent lack of laws that addressed the nature of technology and how it affects the older copyright laws. For more information and resources related to this topic, you can visit the Copyrights section on FindLaw.

Reasons for Enactment

The growing opinion of people just before the drafting of the DMCA was that new technologies allowed users to freely transfer music, texts, and other works of art to other people. This was especially true of the Internet, which made downloading music, text, and movies easier than ever before. Copyright holders felt that many of the laws currently on the books did not provide enough protections for their works.

Alongside the copyright holders' demands for more protections, foreign governments were demanding more protection for copyright holders in their countries. For instance, the United States demanded that China enforce international copyright laws by finding and prosecuting software pirates and other violators of U.S. copyrights.

As a result of these sentiments, the U.S. signed two treaties that offered more protections for international copyright holders and also addressed technology issues relevant to keeping copyrights safe. These treaties, the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT), were signed by the United States in December of 1996 and ratified by Congress. These treaties were written with the intention of extending around the world protections for copyright holders in their respective countries. They also motivated the United States to pass laws recognizing copyrights from other countries.

What Does the DMCA Do?

The DMCA makes it a criminal act to produce and disseminate devices, services, or technology that evades measures that control access to copyrighted works. The law also makes the act of circumventing an access control a crime, even if there was no actual copyright infringement, and increases the penalties for any copyright infringement that is done on the Internet.

The DMCA also addresses the role of online service providers in copyright infringement. The law does not hold Internet service providers directly or indirectly liable for any copyright infringement that occurs through the use of their services, provided they adhere to certain guidelines. One action required of online service providers is to block access to or remove infringing material when they receive notice of an infringement claim from a copyright owner. Please keep in mind that the DMCA only addresses copyrights, not other forms of intellectual property, such as patents or trademarks.

Getting Legal Help

Copyright laws, including the DMCA, can be complicated for many non-attorneys to understand. If you would like help with getting your works copyrighted, or you have questions or concerns about your already copyrighted works, you may want to contact an experienced intellectual property attorney in your area for guidance.

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