The ‘unintended consequences’ of the DCMA

May 2006

Internet, record labels, film, television
By Timothy B Lee

Pointing out that the modern PC industry wouldn’t exist without ‘reverse engineering’ and multi platform compatibility (Microsoft’s dominance accepted!) this article explores the unintended consequences of the US’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) which includes a clause prohibiting the “circumvention” of digital rights management schemes. It is a federal crime to transfer a protected DVD to your iPod for example. Congress hoped to deter piracy. But the practical effect has been rather different. The DMCA gives incumbents a powerful weapon against competitors seeking to build products that are compatible with their own. If they refuse to license their copy protection schemes to competitors, any compatible device a competitor might build is likely to be ruled a “circumvention device” under the DMCA, even if it’s never used for piracy. That allows the platform creator to effectively control who may create devices for that platform.

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