What is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a Federal law established in 1998. It criminalized the development or use of software that makes it possible for people to access materials that are copyright protected, like music files, DVDs, or software programs. It also makes it criminal to disseminate copyright protected materials.

Making unauthorized copies of digital media for friends is a form of copyright piracy.
Making unauthorized copies of digital media for friends is a form of copyright piracy.

The impetus behind the DMCA is that computer piracy was quickly decreasing profits for those who disseminated information on the Internet or who sold software programs. Making pirated copies of materials like a word processing program, or duplicates of music were becoming an increasing headache for companies using the Internet or making profits therefrom.

Distribution of pirated videos over the Internet has become a major problem.
Distribution of pirated videos over the Internet has become a major problem.

The DMCA sought to address this by setting forth specific rules regarding the criminal and civil prosecution of those violating copyrights. In some cases violation would include plagiarism, not citing particular sources appropriately, or deliberate theft. It also includes programming code that can provide access to material that is encoded.

Programs like Napster for example are a direct violation of the DMCA because they allowed for people to download music files without paying the musicians and record companies. This program was able to get around encoding data, so that people could illegally download material, as defined by the DMCA.

Opponents to the shutdown of Napster argued that the DMCA overstepped itself because people were sharing filings, not engaging in seeking profit for their use. However, even this sharing theoretically violated the DMCA and thus Napster was ordered to shut down.

In 2006, backed by the recording and film industry, a proposed revamping of the DMCA would further tighten restrictions on items like file sharing. Not everyone supports this revisal of the original DMCA. For example one of the proposed targets of the DMCA is YouTube, where people often share copyrighted material.

Evoking some controversy, one major recording label, Warner, is giving the right to anyone to use their recordings to make short movies or videos. Further acts by other record companies might help end the looming controversy over YouTube's copyright infringements and make it easier for people to share and experiment with film and music files.

There are many organizations now opposed to further tightening of the DMCA, but their opposition may mean little since these organizations lack the lobbying power of some of the software, recording and film industry giants.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent EasyTechJunkie contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


@croydon - That's my problem with DCMA. At the moment it's entirely reliant on interpretation and force from corporations. So someone who steals a single pop song for personal use could end up with thousands of dollars of fines or even jail time and someone who spends years exploiting independent artists and writers could get off with nothing more than a warning.

There's just too much scope for abuse and the whole intention of the law seems to cater to it.


@Fa5t3r - I also want to point out that simply creating something original is enough for it to be copyrighted. You don't have to do anything special as long as it's all original content.

Although in my experience sending out DCMA copyright infringement notices doesn't often work. There are quite a few websites out there that basically make a living by stealing other people's work and they aren't going to be scared by the nebulous threat of DCMA without a corporation backing it up.


The DCMA can also be used for small internet artists and writers, who might have noticed that their work has been ripped off and spread without their consent. There are many sample DCMA notice letters out there and if you've noticed that a website has been distributing your copyrighted art, photos, writing or whatever on a website without your consent, you can use this to stop them.

I would recommend that you first send the website a letter explaining that you want them to take down your work and if they don't respond, you can send the DCMA to their ISP and to places like Google, who will remove them from their search index.

Even if they've just put up one of your articles for free or something like that, without linking to you, it can hurt your own website because search engines don't like content that has multiple duplicates and will penalize it in searches. So it's definitely worth weeding out people who do this, even if they are doing it inadvertently.

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