10 Years Later, Misunderstood DMCA is the Law That Saved the Web

By David Kravets


If you’re wondering whom to thank for the Web 2.0 explosion in interactive websites, consider sending a bouquet to Congress. Today’s internet is largely an outgrowth of the much-reviled Digital Millennium Copyright Act that lawmakers passed in 1998, and President Clinton signed into law exactly a decade ago Tuesday.

Blogs, search engines, e-commerce sites, video and social-networking portals are thriving today thanks in large part to the notice-and-takedown regime ushered in by the much-maligned copyright overhaul. A decade ago, when the DMCA was enacted, these innovations were unheard of, embryonic or not yet conceived. Now, Google has grown into one of the world’s largest companies, and its video-sharing site YouTube has left an enduring mark on public discourse. The Mountain View, California, company is one of many that openly acknowledges the DMCA’s role in its success, a view shared by public interest groups.

"This was the opening shot of the digital age," recalls Art Brodsky, a writer at the time and now the communications director for Public Knowledge, a Washington, D.C.-based digital rights and lobbying group.

The DMCA (.pdf) was conceived a decade ago as the United States’ implementation of an international copyright treaty called WIPO. Hollywood wanted the bill to protect its intellectual property from being infringed on a massive scale, and secured a still-troubling anti-circumvention rule that generally prevents consumers from bypassing copy protection schemes. But history has shown that the far-more beneficial element in the law is a provision that provides ISPs, hosting companies and interactive services near blanket immunity for the intellectual property violations of their users — a provision responsible for opening vast speech and business opportunities — realized and unrealized.

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