Digital Millennium Copyright Act

The United States Congress enacted the Digital Millennium Copyright Act ("DMCA") in 1998 in order to account for the changing face of copyright law in a digital era. The DMCA amended United States Copyright law, under Title 17 of the United States Code.

The DMCA seeks to balance the interests of copyright holders with the interests of online service providers ("OSPs") in instances where copyright infringement occurs on the Internet. Accordingly, this federal statute expands the scope of copyrights, but limits liability for OSPs in instances of alleged copyright infringement.

However, the DMCA does not propose to protect Internet users from engaging in copyright infringement. For instance, the DMCA specifically prohibits circumvention of anti-infringement measures to access or distribute copyrighted material under 17 U.S.C. § 1201. Internet users who violate this provision are subject to civil and criminal penalties. Nonetheless, the DMCA takes note of fair use considerations and protects certain "classes of works" that would be "adversely affected" by a strict application of this provision.

The DMCA provides a "safe harbor" for internet service providers if they meet certain statutory service requirements. The United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit defined the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA in its decision in Viacom International, Inc. v. YouTube, Inc. The court held that in the absence of proof that Youtube had "actual knowledge" of unauthorized material, it could not be liable for copyright infringement on its site. The court decided that the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA applied to YouTube. Nonetheless, the court did maintain that if YouTube had "actual knowledge" of specific instances of copyright infringement, and exhibited "willful blindness" by failing to remove the unauthorized content, YouTube could no longer appeal to the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA. The actual knowledge requirement is a higher standard than general knowledge because it requires specific knowledge of the exact instances of infringement in order to find liability.

Public Knowledge, a public interest group based in Washington D.C., commented in a Time Magazine article that the decision rightfully rejected Viacom's argument that internet service providers had a duty to monitor online activity for potentially infringing material in order to qualify for the DMCA's safe harbor provisions.

The DMCA also redefines liability for copyright infringement. For example, in Sony Computer Entertainment America, LLC v. George Hotz et al. , the United States District Court for the Northern District of California found defendant George Hotz guilty of copyright infringement for his work in assisting consumers in "jail-breaking" their PlayStation game consoles.

Under the DMCA and United States copyright law, copyright holders who fall victim to unauthorized use may seek an injunction in the form of a court order that prohibits further infringing use of the copyrighted material. Copyright holders may also seek civil remedies under 17 U.S.C. § 1203 and criminal remedies under 17 U.S.C. § 1204. However, in order to establish criminal liability, the copyright holder will have to demonstrate that the unauthorized use was willful, with a malicious intent.