What is the DMCA?

The main goal of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is to protect technology, devices, and/or services that are copyrighted. It also makes it a criminal act to circumvent access to technology, devices, and/or services even if there isn’t actual infringement on copyright – aka, trying to access something online without permission. At its core, the DMCA was written to protect IP owners, content hosts and Internet service providers.

The DMCA creates “safe harbors” for online service providers.¬†It extends the reach of copyright and also limits the liability of online services who may be affected by users infringing on copyright. For an online service provider, in order to comply with the DMCA the provider must enable users to request take-downs of works that have infringed upon copyright. The provider must also not know of the infringing activity or receive any direct financial benefit from the infringing activity. For example, file sharing sites may profit and be liable for copyright infringement on behalf of the software shared. The most notable example of this being MGM Studios v. Grokster (with a summary on Oyez),

In a unanimous opinion delivered by Justice David Souter, the Court held that companies that distributed software, and promoted that software to infringe copyrights, were liable for the resulting acts of infringement. The Court argued that although the Copyright Act did not expressly make anyone liable for another’s infringement, secondary liability doctrines applied here. The software in this case was used so widely to infringe copyrights that it would have been immensely difficult to deal with each individual infringer. The “only practical alternative” was to go against the software distributor for secondary liability. Here the software companies were liable for encouraging and profiting from direct infringement.”

Grokster was shut down on November 7th, 2005 after the ruling.

For video game developers, the DMCA gives developers the power to protect their work by enabling them to request content infringing on the developer’s copyright be taken down and it also gives developers the power to restore their work if it was taken down improperly.

If you have created original work or a piece of intellectual property (IP) and your copyright has been infringed upon, many online platforms offer specific DMCA contacts for reporting copyright infringement to have it reviewed and/or pulled from the platform.

A more in-depth overview of the DMCA was written by the Business and Legal Special Interest Group from the IGDA in 2016 and is available here.