Digital Millennium Copyright Act

Listen to the DMCA podcast (transcript)

What is the DMCA?

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, passed in 1998, brings U.S. copyright law up to date with advances in technology. Computers and the Internet make it easy and cheap to make multiple copies of a work and distribute them globally, flooding the market with illegal copies. The DMCA legally enforces technological barriers to copyright infringement, like passwords and encryption. It also creates a way for copyright owners to fight back against online copyright infringement.

 The DMCA limits the college's liability for copyright infringement committed by users (which, for the DMCA's purposes, include faculty and staff) in exchange for complying with a set of take-down procedures. 

Faculty and staff are still personally liable for copyright infringement, and may have their computer accounts terminated if they infringe repeatedly.

Avoiding DMCA Take-Downs

It is very important for faculty and staff to avoid posting infringing content on the college website, the Commons and the learning management system, and to promptly remove any that they find. By self-monitoring, we are able to remove the infringing content in a way that doesn't interfere with our educational mission. 

  1. If you feel comfortable doing so, approach the person who posted the content in a collegial and nonconfrontational way. Suggest that he or she  Ask a Librarian for help finding a legal way to provide access to the material, or to find alternative materials. 
  2. An alternative is to Ask a Librarian to work with the faculty member to determine whether the content was posted legally. If it is infringing, we will work with him or her to find a legal way to provide access to the content or to alternative materials. There will be no negative consequences for you or the other person. 

In the Event of a DMCA Take-Down

If a copyright owner thinks that his or her content is being infringed upon on the college website, learning management system or affiliated sites like the Commons, they can send a DMCA notice to the college's copyright officer (David O'Neill, vice president, Office of Integrated Technologies).

Lexblog provides a summary of how to issue a DMCA notice, and a sample of what the notice looks like.

Once our copyright officer receives the DMCA notice, the allegedly infringing content has to be taken down immediately, without investigation or due process. This sometimes results in entire Web pages or websites being taken down. The owner/maintainer of the affected site is notified after the fact. 

The owner/maintainer has the right to then issue a counter-notice and put the content back up. However, this can result in a lawsuit and/or criminal copyright charges. If your content is taken down because of a DMCA notice, you should consult with your supervisor and college counsel before issuing a counter-notice. In this case, do not ask a librarian for assistance; we are not qualified to give any kind of legal advice on this subject.

Chilling Effects.org provides a summary of how to issue a DMCA counter-notice, and a form to fill out that generates the counter-notice.

Because DMCA take-downs are so disruptive and potentially expensive, it's very important to avoid posting infringing content and to take down infringing content as soon as it is identified.

Anti-Circumvention

 The DMCA anti-circumvention provision makes it illegal to break or bypass digital rights management technologies (DRM) including:

  • encryption, like region coding on DVDs, which makes it impossible to play a U.S. DVD on a European DVD player
  • password protection, like the passwords used to access our learning management system and the library databases.

It is illegal to circumvent the DRM even if you have the legal right to use the content protected by it. For example, if you have a public-domain film on a region-coded DVD, it is illegal to remove its region coding, even though there is no copyright to infringe. 

The Librarian of Congress periodically rules on specific exemptions to the DMCA. The current exemptions relevant to higher education are:

  • It is legal to bypass the DRM of an e-book so that a visually impaired person can read it, but only if there is not an accessible version of it on the market.
  • Film studies faculty may bypass the DRM on DVDs in order to create clips of their content.