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Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was signed into law in 1998. The law was an attempt to bring US copyright law in line with world wide copyright treaties and to address some of the issues dealing with digital content. The law is broken down into 5 “titles”. The most important for educators are Titles 1, 2 and 4.

Title 1

Title 1 contains a provision that prohibits the implementation of technological means of circumventing copy protection measures. Specifically, it outlaws measures that

  • Are primarily designed or produced to circumvent.
  • Have only limited commercially significant purpose or use other than to circumvent.
  • Are marketed for use in circumventing.

There are exceptions made for nonprofit libraries and educational institutions. These exceptions include circumvention for the sole purpose of determining if you wish to obtain full authorized access to the work. In addition, there are provisions for:

  • Reverse engineering of computer programs to achieve interoperability.
  • Encryption research to identify flaws and vulnerabilities.
  • Incorporation of circumvention in order to prevent minor’s access to harmful materials on the Internet.
  • Circumvention to remove private information from being collected and disseminated online.
  • Circumvention for the purpose of testing security of a computer, computer system or network.

Title I also established stiff fines and even jail penalties for willful violation of these provisions.

Title 2

Title 2 also called the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act (OCILLA) sets limits of liability of Internet service providers. Since most colleges run their own Internet services, they are in fact ISP’s. In order to maintain this protection, ISP’s must act as soon as they are notified of an infringement.

ACC maintains its limited liability as long as:

  • It does not have actual notice of the infringing activity or knowledge of circumstances from which infringing activity is apparent or, if it becomes aware of such acts, expeditiously to remove it.
  • It does not receive a financial benefit from the infringing activity.
  • Upon notice of the infringing activity, it responds expeditiously to remove or disable the material.
  • It has an agent designated to receive notifications whose name, address, phone number, and e-mail address are available on its website and registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. (17 U.S.C. §§ 512(a), (b), (c), and (d).)

Title 4

Title 4 of the DMCA contains 6 “miscellaneous provisions.” The ones that will interest educators the most are:

2. c. which adds web-casting to the protected performance rights of the copyright holder. In other words you do need a license or permission to web-cast copyright protected audio, including music.

3. which required the copyright office to report to Congress on the promotion of distance education. This has led to the TEACH Act and the Nov. 2006 ruling from the Library of Congress that expanded the works exempted from the circumvention statute to 6 additional special cases:

  • Audiovisual works …when circumvention is accomplished for the purpose of making compilations of portions of those works for educational use in the classroom by media studies or film professors.
  • Computer programs and video games distributed in formats that have become obsolete …A format shall be considered obsolete if the machine or system necessary to render perceptible a work stored in that format is no longer manufactured or is no longer reasonably available in the commercial marketplace. Computer programs protected by dongles that prevent access due to malfunction or damage and which are obsolete…
  • Literary works distributed in ebook format when all existing ebook editions of the work (including digital text editions made available by authorized entities) contain access controls that prevent the enabling either of the book’s read-aloud function or of screen readers that render the text into a specialized format.
  • Computer programs in the form of firmware that enable wireless telephone handsets to connect to a wireless telephone communication network, when circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of lawfully connecting to a wireless telephone communication network.
  • Sound recordings and audiovisual works …, distributed in compact disc format and protected by technological protection measures that control access to lawfully purchased works and create or exploit security flaws or vulnerabilities that compromise the security of personal computers, when circumvention is accomplished solely for the purpose of good faith testing, investigating, or correcting such security flaws or vulnerabilities.

4. grants nonprofit libraries the right to make back-up copies that transform audio to newer technology and aids in preservation.


A small hardware device that, when plugged into a computer, enables a specific copy-protected program to run, the program being disabled on that computer if the device is not present. The device is effective against software piracy.
Software stored on a memory chip in a computer or computer device instead of being part of a program.