The Controversial DMCA

p>When the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) passed through the U.S. Congress in 1998, few knew the impact it would have on technological innovation. Some eight years later, a war of words has erupted over the controversial provisions of the landmark legislation. In one corner stands a large group of technologist who believe it is crippling innovation, and in the other corner the entertainment industry weighs in with the argument that the copyright laws have ushered in a new era of content distribution via innovative devices of all kinds. Who's right? That's up to you to decide.

In this month's article "Death by DMCA", authors Fred Von Lohmann and Wendy Seltzer write that copyright is being turned from a limited-term incentive designed to encourage creative artists to a broadly scoped transfer of wealth from the public to the private realm. They claim the DMCA has washed away entire categories of new devices and has become de facto technology regulation.

In an accompanying sidebar, "DMCA Brings Good Things to Life", author Fritz Attaway responds that the DMCA gave innovators and creators an effective means of protecting themselves against thieves who try to beat the system by unlawfully making copies and redistributing movies and other entertainment.

Lohmann is a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit group based in San Francisco devoted to protecting civil liberties and free expression in the digital world. Seltzer is a visiting professor of law at Brooklyn Law School, where she teaches Internet Law and Information Privacy and writes about free speech online.

Attaway is Executive Vice President and Special Policy Advisor to the Motion Picture Association of America.

Each side makes its best case in our pages this month.

The brief of Lohmann and Seltzer is that a law enacted to stifle digital piracy has done little to accomplish its goals but has done a great deal to interfere with the freedom to develop new electronics. Further, they say pending legislation—such as the "Analog Hole" Bill—will go even further in taking design decisions for product features out of the hands of engineers and into those of federal regulators.

Attaway asserts that rather than discouraging innovation, the DMCA has fostered an innovative environment that has given consumers greater access to movies, TV shows, and other copyrighted material than ever before, advancing new technologies as well as new business models. He urges the Congress to pass the Analog Hole Bill to help ensure that consumer choices are not undermined by the risk of theft, by laying out simple rules of the road for programming and equipment.

Read their articles, do the research, and make up your own mind. Then you might want to write to your representatives on Capitol Hill.

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