Lawyer On DMCA

Here's a snippet of an interview with Mike Godwin, an attorney, regarding DMCA and the copyright law in the digital age. I reproduce it here because it coincides with my last rant on some key points. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there are lawyers out there who stand so close to me on copyright issues.

DMCA - by JoeBaldwin

Do you see the DMCA as a law that can truly benefit the world as a whole, or just a tool of the big corporations (MPAA, I'm looking at you) or whatever?


Well, I think it's primarily a tool of copyright-holding companies, who continue to be terrified (with justification) about the impact the digital world is going to have on their ways of doing business. For two or three centuries, depending on how you count, publishers and distributors have relied on the technological happenstance that making a copy of a creative work was difficult. The digital world makes copying easy and cheap, which undercuts a basic assumption behind copyright law, which is that unauthorized copying is generally so expensive that only bad guys with commercial motives would bother to do it. Suddenly, computers and the Internet have created a world in which ordinary, otherwise-law-abiding people are empowered to make unauthorized copies for free, and to share those 100-percent-perfect copies of creative works with other people -- maybe millions of other people.

Now, one response to this is just exactly what we've seen -- the copyright industries have been trying to shore up the existing copyright framework by DMCA lawsuits (either against Internet service providers or against individual users), by seeking architectural changes over computers and the Internet (to make copying harder), by classifying noncommercial copying as a criminal or civil wrong, and so on. And because these are well-moneyed copyright holders who do in fact employ lots of people and contribute to the economy, they have a lot of influence with policy-makers.

The problem here isn't merely that the copyright industries are trying to demonize peer-to-peer file-sharing, and digital copying of content generally. Instead, it's that they don't realize (or don't care) that they're attempting to roll back or otherwise restrict what can only be understood properly as design features of computers and of the Internet itself. Digital technologies at some fundamental level are about the making of perfect copies of information (whether that information is your content or someone else's). It's very hard to put technological hobbles on computers and the Internet that distinguish between lawful copying and unlawful copying -- if you want to throw out that bathwater, you're going to end up throwing out the baby as well.

A better approach, it seems to me, is that suggested by, among others, law professor Jessica Litman in her book DIGITAL COPYRIGHT. In the last chapter of her book, which I recommend to anyone interested in the DMCA and related digital-copyright subjects, Litman suggests that as we revise copyright law in the digital age, we try to make it as much like pre-existing law as possible. I agree with that -- my major criticism of the DMCA is not so much that it serves only one set of interests but rather that it prohibits circumventing copy-protection technologies even if you have an otherwise lawful reason to do so.

I have one other thought on this subject that's been on my mind lately, and it's this: just as much as peer-to-peer file-sharing is a basic feature of the Internet, music sharing (and the sharing of other treasured creative works) is a basic feature of human culture. We want to share the songs we love, the books and movies we love, and so on. I think what we've got to aim for is a legal system that preserves the goals of the Copyright Act while accommodating, to the extent possible, the human impulse to share the cultural creations we love.

Reproduced by permission.


Original interview, which appeared as an article on Slashdot.

Mike Godwin's profile.